MIT’s neutrality in the Swartz case

The long-awaited report on MIT’s role in the Aaron Swartz case seems to ring true: the university technically did nothing wrong but its lack of leadership may have been a contributing factor in the hacker’s suicide.

The report, written by MIT computer science professor Hal Abelson, says the university did not urge officials to prosecute Swartz for hacking into the school’s computer network and downloading 4 million articles from the online archive JSTOR without paying for them. But the university also did not urge prosecutors to drop the case or find a way to make the charges go away.

Swartz, an activist who favored unfettered access to online documents, committed suicide in January rather than face a criminal trial on felony hacking charges. US Attorney Carmen Ortiz and her prosecutors have come under fire for pushing for a sentence of as long as 30 years, although they offered Swartz a plea deal for less.

Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig, a prominent ally of Swartz,  took issue with the report’s emphasis on MIT’s neutrality in the Swartz case. “There are plenty of contexts in which to be ‘neutral’ is simply to be wrong,” he writes.

Lessig said MIT could have easily defused the situation by saying that under the school’s open access policies Swartz’s hacking did not represent “unauthorized access.”

Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, Swartz’s girlfriend, called the report a whitewash. She said the case would have gone away had MIT publicly stated that it didn’t want the prosecution to go forward.

Robert Swartz said MIT was not neutral in the legal case against his son and had a moral obligation to advocate on his behalf. “MIT in fact played a central role in Aaron’s suicide,” he said.

                                                                                                                                                                              BRUCE MOHL

BEACON HILL

The battle to replace Senate President Therese Murray has been joined, with Sens. Stephen Brewer of Barre and Stanley Rosenberg of Amherst going head to head, the Telegram & Gazette reports.

Massachusetts information technology companies are in an uproar over the state’s new tax on software configurations and some are threatening to leave the state, NECN reports.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Attleboro Mayor Kevin Dumas will run unopposed in his bid for a sixth term.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

The House floats a plan to cut the food stamp rolls by 5 million.

It’s hard to tell whether he’s kidding or not as John McCain tells The New Republic that he would face a tough decision about who to support in a 2016 match-up between Hillary Clinton and Rand Paul (part of a group of GOP senators he recently called “wacko birds”).

ELECTIONS

Bill Walczak breaks out from the mayoral pack by declaring his opposition to an East Boston casino.   Adrian Walker says the whole city should get to vote on the casino issue.

The Globe tries to pin down candidates, with mixed success, on a range of issues.

The Boston Redevelopment Authority is becoming a point of contention in the Boston mayor’s race, with some candidates in favor of removing city planning from the agency’s purview, WBUR reports.

Today in Anthony Weiner’s campaign imploding: Weiner says he won’t quit the race because “Quit isn’t the way we roll in New York City,” while Weiner’s spokeswoman unleashes an epic, profane rant against a former campaign intern who gave an unflattering interview to the Daily News.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Hawaii tries to reduce its homeless population by shipping them back to the mainland by plane and cruise ship, MSN.com reports.

EDUCATION

The new Pioneer Charter School of Science announces it will start the year in leased space in Everett while it builds a new school in Saugus not far from the high school, the Item reports.

The superintendent of schools in Somerset tries to explain the sudden emergence of a $250,000 deficit, the Herald News reports.

HEALTH CARE

A program requiring outpatient care for mentally ill patients is working, the New York Times reports.

TRANSPORTATION

The MBTA announced that it is postponing the planned two-year shutdown of the Government Center T station for renovations so that it doesn’t overlap with the closure for repairs of the Callahan Tunnel.

T&G columnist Clive McFarlane wonders whether there’s a hidden agenda in the modernization of the Worcester Regional Transit Authority’s bus services.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The Patrick administration is issuing emergency regulations to prevent a downturn in the state’s solar industry, CommonWealth reports.

A new study indicates parts of 1,400 US cities will be submerged because of rising seas, USA Today reports. An interactive map suggests Boston, Cambridge, Arlington, Revere, Somerville, and Quincy are among the Massachusetts communities affected.

Somerset and solar developers are putting the finishing touches on a 3.7 megawatt solar farm, the Herald News reports.

An effort to tag great white sharks off the Cape is being billed as the largest such undertaking ever carried out.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis gives a fuller account of the decision to demote a detective, Jerome Hall-Brewster, in connection with an earlier case involving Edwin Alemany. He says the former detective supervisors could also face disciplinary action but says they have not yet been interviewed since both are on vacation.

The attorney for former Whitey Bulger associate Pat Nee says his client wasn’t involved in a South Boston double murder, and argues that Bulger is trying to put Nee on the stand because, “because he was a man’s man and well-liked. Whitey was odd and awkward. He’s going down the drain and he’s reaching out to grab, ‘Who can I pull down with me?’” Meanwhile, US District Court Judge Denise Casper denied a defense request to sequester the jury in the case.

Lawyers for Tarek Mehanna of Sudbury argued his appeal in federal court yesterday

MEDIA

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer tells its editorial staff to wait by their phones tomorrow for a call on whether they will be laid off or continue to work, Romenesko reports.

Newsweek profiles New York Times editor Jill Abramson.