On Jan. 13, 2013, MIT’s president, L. Rafael Reif, ordered an internal investigation into the Aaron Swartz case be conducted after the Reddit founder was found dead in his Brooklyn, NY apartment just two days prior.
Swartz, a Harvard University fellow studying ethics, was charged in 2011 with stealing almost 5 million articles from an MIT computer archive called JSTOR. The Los Angeles Times reports he was facing 13 felony charges, including computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer, and wire fraud. He was accused of intending to distribute the articles on websites for file-sharing.
The man All Things Digital calls a “hacktivist,” pleaded not guilty to the crimes and his trial was slated to begin in Feb. 2013.
If convicted Swartz could have faced decades in prison, along with some hefty fines, reports the Times.
In his announcement to further investigate the matter Reif said he has asked Professor Hal Abelson, “to lead a thorough analysis of MIT’s involvement from the time that we perceived unusual activity on our network in fall 2010 up to the present.”
The statement also said, “…I and all of us at MIT are extremely saddened by the death of this promising young man who touched the lives of so many. It pains me to think that MIT played any role in a series of events that have ended in tragedy.”
According to Tech Crunch, JSTOR also released a statement saying “the case is one that we ourselves had regretted being drawn into from the outset, since JSTOR’s mission is to foster widespread access to the world’s body of scholarly knowledge… Aaron returned the data he had in his possession and JSTOR settled any civil claims we might have had against him in June 2011.”
According to Lessig Blog, v2, JSTOR made the just and “appropriate” move by declining to prosecute Swartz and asking the government not to pursue the issue, while MIT, “to its great shame,” continued its “war against the ‘criminal.’”
The Times notes that a number of legal experts believe the charges against Swartz were “unfounded” because he was a university fellow, thus he had the right to access the articles.
Swartz’s family and girlfriend released a statement on Jan. 12, calling his demise, “the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach,” blaming MIT in part for his suicide.