Aaron Swartz

MIT on Aaron Swartz's Prosecution and Suicide: Don't Look at Us!

College took neutral route, but questions whether it could have or should have helped


ragesoss / Foter / CC BY-SA
credit:ragesoss / Foter / CC BY-SA

Aaron Swartz's suicide, carried out while he faced federal prosecution for accessing Massachusetts Institute of Technology's library and downloading significant amounts of scientific journal data, prompted the college to perform a self-evaluation about the way they handled the situation. Did MIT or anybody at MIT encourage the prosecution of the young open-access activist or take his side? After the review, the university concluded that the college took no action to encourage the Department of Justice's treatment of Swartz. From the Boston Globe:

In a press release, university officials said the report finds that MIT never sought federal prosecution, punishment or jail time, or opposed a plea bargain with Swartz, whose suicide triggered a national debate over whether prosecutors were overzealous in pursuing charges against the computer prodigy.

"I am confident that MIT's decisions were reasonable, appropriate, and made in good faith," MIT President L. Rafael Reif said in a statement. "I have heard from many in our community who believe our actions were proper and justified. Others feel differently, and the review panel identifies alternate paths we could have followed, including becoming more actively involved in the case as it evolved."

MIT's report, readable here (pdf) does ask what the college might have done had it shifted a little bit away from pure neutrality, maybe trying to encourage the Department of Justice to drop the charges down to misdemeanors to openly showing support for Swartz to getting more involved with issues surrounding the ambiguous federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the law used to prosecute him (and which friendly legislators are now trying to update to try to scale back prosecutor overreach). Interestingly, none of the discussion points in the paper suggested supporting the Department of Justice's behavior.

NEXT: NASA Telescope Catches Exoplanet Eclipse

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. While the penalties were clearly excessive, he really did commit a legitimate crime. Didn’t he have to gain unauthorized entry to MIT’s network? I don’t really blame MIT for this.

  2. Perhaps trying to talk down the charges is justified, but “… to openly showing support for Swartz…” is laughable, Swartz did commit a crime when he physically hooked a laptop to MIT’s network from a utility closet. There’s no reason for MIT to support that.

  3. whatever

    I blame Bush.

    1. 99% chance you got the right culprit.

      1. BOOOOOSH!!

        1. He did fuck this country over. Right in the goddamn ass.

          When I think about all the problems – spying, useless wars,financial disaster, TARP, torture, huge deficits, federal takeover of public schools, overspending, Medicare expansion, fumbling SS reform, signing statements and all the other shithole baggage he plied onto this country.

          The GOP should be shunned for 30 years.

          1. Yeah, it’s been great watching Obama lead the 3rd and 4th terms of Bush’s presidency.

            Double down on all of it! I’m all in! – BHO

            1. None of that shit originated with Clinton!

              All circa 2001-09.

              1. Really? ‘Cause I remember being part of a useless war in what used to be part of Yugoslavia during Clinton’s presidency.

              2. But Clinton governed to the right of Romney, and couldn’t get nominated by today’s democrats.

  4. I’m unfamiliar with this case so help me out here.

    In a press release, university officials said the report finds that MIT never sought federal prosecution, punishment or jail time, or opposed a plea bargain with Swartz

    Was this another crime without a complaint? Cuz from that statement it seems like it. What am I missing?

  5. I honestly don’t remember:

    Who called the cops on Schwartz?

    1. Trayvon Martin’s mom. IRONY

  6. OT – Chris Christie slapfight with Rand Paul up a notch: Kentucky and Rand Paul are welfare queens…..

    “I find it interesting that Sen. Paul is accusing us of having a ‘gimme, gimme, gimme’ attitude towards federal spending when in fact New Jersey is a donor state and we get 61 cents back on every dollar we send to Washington,” Christie said. “And interestingly, Kentucky gets $1.51 on every dollar they send to Washington. So if Sen. Paul wants to start looking at where he’s going to cut spending to afford defense, maybe he should start cutting the pork barrel spending that he brings home to Kentucky?”

    1. Kentucky includes 2 large military installations that do some very expensive training (Armor and Air Assault), which may.. distort those figures.

      1. My brother was based at Fort Campbell. From what I saw of the Air Assault school, they do it on the cheap. I was impressed with their…ingenuity and frugality.

        A fucking 30′ wooden platform and the hulk of a Vietnam-era Bell Huey….an obstacle course (dirt, ropes, couple logs). I was impressed…

      2. The armor school moved to Fort Benning a couple of years ago, and the one combat brigade they put at Knox as recompense is on the newly announced chopping block in the next few years. Recruiting and Human Resources command are the big things still there.

        1. The armor school moved to Fort Benning

          No kidding? That had to cost a pretty penny.

      3. It’s nonsense for several reasons, especially given that Paul’s proposed budget cuts are huge.

        Christie is a big government fanboy. Hard stop.

        1. I don’t know. Looks like Christie’s using a pretty good strategy here. If you want Blue Staters to cut taxes and spending, pointing out that the money is going to the Red Staters they hate so much is a good way to go about it. It’s about time people start implementing identity politics in the services of smaller government.

    2. Fucking Christie – what a cunt stain. He makes a great TEAM BLUE cheerleader. Or TEAM RED! He’s bi!

      As Popehat said last week on the Tweeterz, “Chris Christie can snort my taint. If he can get permission from the NSA.”


    3. Oh, the link.


      It’s like Peyton Place!

    4. In other words, Jersey is getting fucked by its brethren states. You would think that would incentivize them to pay less in taxes.

  7. Totally lay this at the doorstep of the federal prosecutors, and Congress for their vague and out-of-date laws. And also YOU, the voter/non-voter.

  8. OK wow, that dude knows whats going on man.


  9. very sad that a life of a young person was lost.


Please to post comments

Comments are closed.