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MIT Releases Its Report on Aaron Swartz Prosecution

July 31, 2013
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A long-awaited independent report on MIT’s role in the federal prosecution of Aaron Swartz concludes that the institution behaved neutrally throughout the affair, but “did not duly take into account the wider background of information policy against which the prosecution played out and in which MIT people have traditionally been passionate leaders.”

The 180-page report prepared by MIT Professor Hal Abelson was requested by the university’s president, L. Rafael Reif, in early January, after Swartz, 26, took his own life. Swartz was facing a looming trial on federal hacking and wire fraud charges for using MITs public network to download 4 million academic papers from the JSTOR clearinghouse.

MIT faced a firestorm of criticism in the wake of Swartz’s suicide. Critics, including Swartz’s family and prominent MIT alumni, said the institution betrayed its own principals by not advocating for less harsh treatment of Swartz, who potentially faced seven years in prison if convicted at trial. Swartz rejected plea bargains of between four and six months in custody that would still have left him with a lifelong felony record.

Reif, in an open letter today, said MIT was vindicated by the report. “The report also sets the record straight by dispelling widely circulated myths,” wrote Reif. “For example, it makes clear that MIT did not ‘target’ Aaron Swartz, we did not seek federal prosecution, punishment or jail time, and we did not oppose a plea bargain.”

But Robert Swartz, Aaron Swartz’s father, says the finding “makes clear that MIT’s role is central in this tragedy.” And Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, Swartz’s partner, had strong words about the report. “MIT’s

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