Swartz's Father Speaks Out: 'MIT Played A Central Role In Aaron’s Suicide'

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Today MIT issued a controversial report that talked about its role in the suicide of famed Internet activist, and early Reddit worker, Aaron Swartz. MIT believes it did not act unfairly in the runup to Swartz's death.

We just received a statement from Robert Swartz, Aaron's father.

Robert Swartz believes MIT played a significant role in Swartz's death. He is so determined to see some good come out of this tragedy that he wants to work with MIT to see some changes made.

Aaron Swartz, who had long battled depression, killed himself in January. Swartz's family and friends say that the driving force behind his death was that he was being prosecuted for downloading – or stealing – 4.8 million academic papers from an online service, JSTOR, using MIT's network.

He potentially faced decades in prison or a plea deal sending him to jail for 4 months.

But, as MIT professor Lawrence Lessig pointed out on his blog, Aaron Swartz was likely not guilty of a crime, nor of violating MIT's rules.

In the 150-page report, MIT absolved itself, saying it acted fairly because it did not ask that Swartz be prosecuted. However, it also did not step in and advocate that the case against Swartz be dropped.

Here's the written statement by Swartz's father:

When MIT President Raphael Reif asked professor Hal Abelson to compile a report documenting MIT’s role in the untimely death of my son Aaron Swartz, Reif said “it pains me to think that MIT played any role in the series of events that ended in tragedy.” Having now read Abelson’s report, it is clear that MIT in fact played a central role in Aaron’s suicide. MIT made numerous mistakes that warrant further examination and significant changes. MIT was not neutral in the legal case against Aaron. And whether MIT was neutral or not is a red herring: the university had a moral obligation to advocate on Aaron’s behalf.

Having said all that, we are encouraged by MIT President Raphael Reif’s desire to ensure that some positive comes of the terrible, tragic situation in which Aaron found himself, and applaud MIT for its commitment to self-examination. In fact, I am so eager to see positive change result from Aaron’s death that I am formally requesting that President Rief involve me in the development and execution of the community engagement process he has asked Provost Chris Kaiser and Faculty Chair Steven Hall to design in order to “allow students, alumni, faculty, staff and MIT Corporation members to explore these subjects together this fall and shape the best course for MIT.”

We remain committed to working with the university to ensure that a variety of changes are implemented at MIT, such as:

· An effort to provide financial and administrative support to make all academic research journals open-access

· Support for comprehensive reform of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and

· A change in how MIT handles allegations of computer hacking, mandating all instances be reviewed on an administrative basis internally at MIT, instead of them being referred to outside authorities.



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