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Aaron Swartz and MIT: The Inside Story 106

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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  • Translation (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MouseTheLuckyDog ( 2752443 ) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @05:24AM (#46613839)

    So MIT as a body did not care about Swartz, but some busy bodies did. I wonder if it is a part of their job description?

  • by MouseTheLuckyDog ( 2752443 ) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @07:42AM (#46614101)

    I agree in part and disagree in part. Swartz was not an asshole, he was however a moron, who let occupioer types convince him that just because you protest, you cannot be arrested for your protests. Which is just the opposite of what Martin Luther King said which is that if you break laws protesting an unjust law, you should gladly go to jail.

    That said, let us remember that what Swartz did was download a bunch of papers describing research that was mostly paid for by the government, and that researches paid [1] to be published. The money used to pay to publish also mostly out of government money. Fact is that the system for publishing academic articles served us well for many years, but is now obsolete. The job could effectively done better by the government sponsoring e-journals, and would be much cheaper then the government is paying now, and be free to anyone with internet access.

    The thing is that I believe the Boycott Elvesier movement has done more to promote the cause of publicly open journals then anything that Swartz did.

    [1] Because I'm sure some idiot will come along and claim that Swartz was stealing from the authors of the papers.

  • too sad (Score:4, Insightful)

    by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @08:00AM (#46614137) Journal

    The whole story is just a damn shame.

    I just hope there are some people who feel guilt about it.

  • by drolli ( 522659 ) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @08:32AM (#46614213) Journal

    Former researcher here:

    a) while the System for publishing needs to be overhauled seriously (and thats happening all the time) it is by no way obsolete

    b) while publication fees exist these are usually minor, and are quite low if you dont demand printing features (e.g. colored prints)

    c) I think JSTOR fulfills a important role. Without such a organization, univerities would be forced to eat the shit of the publishers in a much bigger extend

    d) Not acting on the illegal copying of a big database would undermine the attempts to open up the situation. Something which Aaron did is exactly what the publishers alsways fear.

    e) The MIT acted correctly. If a business partner of mine is attacked in such a way on my network, i have the responsibility to clear the situation and secure evidence but no responsibility to press charges on my own.

    f) I dont share the interpretation that he did not know what he was doing

    g) Reasons for suicides are complex. The assertion that somebody is responsible for a suicide, since he was not 100% positive and supportive about an individual is not the right message, especially *not* in the light of preventing future suicides

  • by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @08:42AM (#46614245)

    Reasons for suicides are complex

    In this case it appears that one major factor was that his girlfriend was threatened and he seemed to think that suicide would take the pressure off her. Due to the fuss generated over his suicide he was correct and the threats of legal action against his girlfriend stopped.
    Are you starting to see what sort of people were involved here? If they were petty criminals instead of lawyers or their agents acting like petty criminals they would probably be doing time for their actions.

  • Which is just the opposite of what Martin Luther King said which is that if you break laws protesting an unjust law, you should gladly go to jail.

    He set up a laptop in a cabinet and downloaded files. The charges -- at best -- should have concerned interference with property. There have been MIT pranks which warranted more serious charges.

    Instead Schwartz was faced with a 35 year sentence and the full weight of a Federal prosecution. It's as if Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, and instead of a $10 fine, found herself charged under anti-terrorism legislation with a 15 year prison sentence for disobeying TSA regulations and a $10 million fine. In other words, a cruel and unusual punishment. Even Dr. King would have found it difficult to rally support in the face of that kind of state reaction to protest.

  • by bzipitidoo ( 647217 ) <> on Sunday March 30, 2014 @12:33PM (#46615299) Journal

    Let's say it again: copying is not stealing. You keep using that word "steal" because... you're trying to strengthen your argument, which is that Swartz was a jerk?

    To further this assertion that Swartz was a jerk, you say that he effectively did a Denial of Service attack, though you concede that it was probaly not intentional. Let's look at that charge a little more. If some high school kid crashes the school web server by repeatedly hitting F5, is the kid in the wrong? Or, maybe, you know, the people who set up the system did a bad job and as soon as a problem crops up, go on a witch hunt. JSTOR was not hit with a DDoS. Systems should be robust enough to handle requests in a fair fashion. Maybe the ability to handle a DDoS is asking too much, but this was a single user. Don't join the witch hunt!

    Seems also that you are not thinking of JSTOR at all. Were they jerks? Absolutely! They should never have locked away all that research that we paid for. It should be freely available, perhaps in torrents. JSTOR's entire model is an offense to freedom and a slap in the face to us all. And they could have done a better job on the technical side, and made their service able to handle a more demanding load. It's not like we haven't done loads of research into operating systems and task scheduling. Why do you give JSTOR a free pass? They're as much or more at fault for your friends' difficulties in accessing research.

Money can't buy love, but it improves your bargaining position. -- Christopher Marlowe