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Aaron Swartz and MIT: The Inside Story 106

Posted by Soulskill
from the shades-of-gray dept.
An anonymous reader writes: "The Boston Globe has reviewed over 7,000 pages of documents from Aaron Swartz's court case, shedding light on the activities that got him in trouble and how MIT reacted to his case. Quoting: 'Most vividly, the e-mails underscore the dissonant instincts the university grappled with. There was the eagerness of some MIT employees to help investigators and prosecutors with the case, and then there was, by contrast, the glacial pace of the institution's early reaction to the intruder's provocation. MIT, for example, knew for 2½ months which campus building the downloader had operated out of before anyone searched it for him or his laptop — even as the university told JSTOR they had no way to identify the interloper.

And once Swartz was unmasked, the ambivalence continued. MIT never encouraged Swartz's prosecution, and once told his prosecutor they had no interest in jail time. However, e-mails illustrate how MIT energetically assisted authorities in capturing him and gathering evidence — even prodding JSTOR to get answers for prosecutors more quickly — before a subpoena had been issued. ... But a number of JSTOR's internal e-mails show a much angrier face in the months that Swartz eluded capture, with employees sharing frustration about MIT's "rather tepid level of concern." JSTOR officials repeatedly raised the prospect, among themselves, of going to the police, e-mails show."
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Aaron Swartz and MIT: The Inside Story

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  • Re:Translation (Score:5, Informative)

    by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Sunday March 30, 2014 @09:03AM (#46614339) Homepage Journal

    some busy bodies

    Beware the Little Eichmanns. [wikipedia.org]

  • by Antique Geekmeister (740220) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @09:44AM (#46614501)

    > I do not understand the rationale for universities and researchers more particularly wanting to have their research locked behind pay-walled services such as JSTOR

    It's well indexed and cross referenced, reliably available, and has become the "one-stop" resource for research documents. That is _invaluable_ when looking for obscure documents or tying together research among multiple fields. JSTOR is getting paid, and not an outrageous amount, for that work. Some fool replicating their entire index and layout, as Aaron Swartz was clearly attempting, means that their income to continue the organization of the material dries up and will not be continued. And JSTOR subscriptions have been much more cost effective than Google searching or library searching for research documents.

    It's the same reason newspapers or magazines put up paywalls: one has to pay the writers and editors, or in this case the indexers and the maintainers of the quite robust and effective back end. Good backups and failover facilities are not free, and JSTOR has been a reliable and invaluable resource. Aaron was threatening that by overwhelming and crashing the services. The documents are kept available much longer, and much more reliably, than a community driven or freeware service could hope to manage. JSTOR see themselves as librarians of knowledge, not as vendors of knowledge, and I applaud their efforts.

  • Re:Translation (Score:3, Informative)

    by hey! (33014) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @09:44AM (#46614503) Homepage Journal

    Well... I've seen MIT try to cope with problems. I've known people working at MIT try to get the Institute to do something about things that most of the people there care about. it's not a pretty picture.

    The thing you may be missing about MIT is that it is a behaviorally rigid bureaucracy that swallows up and individual initiative and spits out ... nothing. Yes, I know that describes many higher education institutions, but I've worked with many such institutions, even as part of a non-profit that was supposed to help colleges and universities implement changes, and trust me, no matter how dysfunctional your institution is at responding to new situations, *MIT is probably worse*.

    So when the Swartz became public, folks reactions were that MIT must be full of horrible, uncaring people. But that's not true. MIT has all kinds of people, and the kind of people like *you* are a much higher proportion of that population than in the general population. Imagine you are a caring, energetic person who goes to work at MIT... OK, maybe you don't know how to picture that. Imagine you are an agile fly darting around faster than the eye can follow. Then you land on this nice looking tree, and end up in this gooey sap-stuff. Now you get the picture.

    Busybodies? MIT is an environment practically engineered to turn energetic, caring people into busybodies. If you're a person who wants to make a difference, you find yourself trapped in an endless well of inertia. So you do *what* you can, as *hard* as you can. And people who like to think of themselves as rational are as prone to rationalization as anyone else. Maybe more so.

    It's still a great place, full of great people. People you'd like. But if you work there, you've got to learn to live in the moment, not in any plans you might have for the future.

  • by Antique Geekmeister (740220) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @03:10PM (#46616087)

    > Swartz didn't use anything but bandwidth that would have gone wasted otherwise.

    No, he didn't use only "bandwidth that would have gone wasted otherwise", He overwhelmed the _JSTOR_ servers at least once, enough to crash some critical JSTOR services. That cut off access not just for MIT but for researchers worldwide. And the amount of bandwidth he was using slowed JSTOR significantly for MIT's students and researchers repeatedly in the months before he was arrested.

    So no, he was blocking the service for other people.

Live within your income, even if you have to borrow to do so. -- Josh Billings

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