There is no justice in following unjust laws.
The long awaited internal report (pdf) of its roll of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the federal prosecution of Aaron Swartz for hacking into its computer system has been finally been released. Aaron was being charges by federal prosecutors with 13 counts of violating the Computer Frauds Act. He was facing a $1 million fine and up to 35 years in prison when he committed suicide in his Brooklyn apartment in January of this year. Aaron also suffered from severe depression.
The report found that MIT did not press for prosecution of Aaron for downloading several million academic articles from the JSTOR database through the MIT computer network, which were returned. However, the school did nothing to stop the over zealous prosecution.
In a Guardian article written by Amanda Holpuch, the report stated that the school viewed that US v Swartz was “simply a lawsuit to which it was not a party.” Yet, they told the prosecutors that that it was not seeking punishment for Swartz but never actually said that they were opposed to jail time. How these people thought that that they were “not party” to Aaron’s prosecution is simply beyond belief.
According to the report, prior to his death, “the MIT community paid scant attention” to Swartz’s prosecution and few people expressed concerns to the administration about the case. However, Swartz’s father, a consultant to the MIT lab and former student there, asked MIT to aid efforts to have the charges dropped or to get a plea deal that would not have jail time. Two faculty members advocated a similar appeal.
In choosing the position of neutrality, the report says the school did not consider Swartz’s contributions to internet technology and was not critical enough of the US government’s “overtly aggressive prosecution.” MIT also did not account for Swartz’s prosecution under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which the report called ” a poorly drafted and questionable criminal law.” That law has been widely criticised since Swartz’s death. [..]
Friends and family have been harshly critical of the report with Aaron’s partner, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, calling the report a “whitewash” on her blog.
She also criticized the school for objecting to a Freedom of Information Act request for the secret service files on Swartz’s case. The school took the unusual step of intervening in the request for government documents after a judge ordered the documents to be released in July.
The Wired reported that while MIT claimed it was “neutral,” it is very clear from the report that they willingly cooperated with the prosecution’s investigation:
MIT police called the Cambridge police, who showed up with a Secret Service agent from the New England Electronic Crimes Task Force – sparking the federal investigation.
The report says that MIT officially adopted a neutral posture with respect to the federal criminal case, treating it as an outside matter. But it also details extensive cooperation between MIT officials and federal agents and prosecutors.
MIT sniffed network traffic from Swartz’s computer and provided logs voluntarily to the government, without demanding a subpoena. And MIT did not offer to give Swartz’s defense team access to the employees interviewed by prosecutors. “The choice not to do this was based on a judgment that the criminal process was sufficiently fair, without the need for it to provide equality of outcome,” the report notes.
“The report makes clear that MIT was not neutral,” says Robert Swartz, who’d met with MIT repeatedly during the prosecution to plead for his son. “But they should not have been neutral. They should have advocated of Aaron’s behalf, because the law under which he was charged was wrong.”
“They cooperated with prosecutors in endless ways, and they were fundamentally opaque to us.”
My fervent hope that the people at MIT who decided to cooperate with the aggressive prosecution of Aaron sleep at night haunted by his face.