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.
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.
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