MIT Issues Long-Awaited Report On Aaron Swartz Case

MIT has released an internal review of their handling of Aaron Swartz, a programmer and Internet activist who committed suicide in January after being charged with hacking into the institute’s computers and downloading millions of articles from the digital academic database JSTOR.

Via Pernille Ironside / AP

MIT released a report Tuesday finding no wrongdoing in its handling of the case of Aaron Swartz.

The 26-year-old committed suicide in January while facing 13 federal felony charges connected to his hacking of the MIT computer system and downloading 4.8 million articles from JSTOR, or about 80% of the entire digital academic article service’s database.

The death of Swartz, a programmer known for his role in developing RSS, forming a company that merged with Reddit, and promoting open access to information, lead to questions about how how aggressively prosecutors pursued charges and MIT’s role in the prosecution. The report was written by a panel led by Hal Abelson, a computer science professor.

In a statement, MIT President L. Rafael Reif said the institute did not target Swartz, nor did they seek federal prosecution, punishment or jail time. MIT’s report indicated they were aware someone was downloading JSTOR articles, but were not aware of the downloader’s identity until after Swartz was arrested. The report also indicated MIT did not involve federal officials, but called Cambridge Police who brought a Secret Service agent to the investigation.

“Knowing the tragedy of Aaron Swartz’s death, I read the report with a tremendous sense of sorrow,” Reif said in a statement. “His family and friends suffered a terrible personal loss, and the Internet community lost an exceptional leader. Even those of us who never knew him mourn the loss of someone so young and so brilliant.”

In a statement Tuesday, Swartz’s former girlfriend, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, called the report a “whitewash.”

“MIT’s behavior throughout the case was reprehensible, and this report is quite frankly a whitewash,” she wrote.

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