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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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  • by Antique Geekmeister ( 740220 ) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @09:27AM (#46614435)

    > Swartz was not an asshole,

    No, he was an asshole. The *scale and intensity* of his attempt to download and replicate *all* of JSTOR, including the indexing, was not only illegal in itself. Because of the amount of bandwidth he was using, he repeatedly crashed parts of JSTOR. That means that researchers and scholars woldwide lost access to a vital research tool. And as a response, and to protect the rest of the world's access, they finally had to cut off MIT's access. He was screwing with people doing medical research. People *die* because cutting edge research gets held back for bonehead reasons.

    If Swartz had taken the single step of cutting the bandwidth he used by 75%, JSTOR wouldn't have kept crashing and had to punt MIT. And if he'd done it from his office at Harvard, *which had similar access to JSTOR*, there probably wouldn't have been a way to charge him, and it would be his employer's problem. Swartz was allowed on the MIT campus because of his Harvard ID, and his screw up has cast that whole reciprocal agreement between MIT and Harvard for library and campus access in doubt.

    What Swartz did was not directly stealing from the authors of the research, it was making their research inaccessible while in progress. It screwed with the thesis writing of friends of mine, and interfered with research projects throughout MIT. Frankly, MIT should have been *much* more eager to help slap cuffs on this twit, but they're traditionally very, very slow to act against "cracking" because it's *embarrassing*, and the prosecutors inevitably fuck it up. Look into the David Lamacchia case about 10 years ago for an example

In less than a century, computers will be making substantial progress on ... the overriding problem of war and peace. -- James Slagle