The Massachusetts Institute of Technology just released its internal report on whether or not the school was complicit in "targeting" Aaron Swartz for prosecution before his eventual suicide earlier this year. The report, written by Professor Hal Abelson and finished on July 26, 2013, clears the school of any wrong doing that could have contributed in any way to his death, but raises questions about policies and strategies used in the case. President L. Rafael Reif writes that the report "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," in his letter addressing the findings. We'll have more on this as we make our way through the report.
But those close to Swartz aren't satisfied with the report's findings. Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, Swartz's girlfriend, called the report "a whitewash," in a just released statement. This is her version of events:
Here are the facts: This report claims that MIT was “neutral” — but MIT’s lawyers gave prosecutors total access to witnesses and evidence, while refusing access to Aaron’s lawyers to the exact same witnesses and evidence. That’s not neutral. The fact is that all MIT had to do was say publicly, “We don’t want this prosecution to go forward” – and Steve Heymann and Carmen Ortiz would have had no case.
The report goes into great detail to put all of the blame for Swartz's prosecution on the Cambridge District Attorney's office and the U.S. Attorney's office. MIT was not involved in the state prosecution. In fact, MIT "first learned of the prosecution on November 17, 2011, through a Cambridge DA’s Office press release," the report alleges. The school claims it was never contacted prior to the DA's office filing charges against Swartz, and the same thing happened with federal prosecutors, too. "At no time had the U.S. Attorney’s Office sought the permission, opinion, or support of MIT for this prosecution before the indictment was handed up," the report says. The school stress the only position they took against Swartz was "neutral," while the prosecutors took the case and ran with it. To gain some sense of what MIT's "posture of neutrality" entailed, look no further than this passage:
MIT recognized that Aaron Swartz had harmed the Institute with his downloading. Despite that, with MIT’s stance of neutrality, this concept of “MIT as victim” meant little to MIT: the Institute simply did not view itself as a victim in anything other than the most technical sense. [...]
MIT, whether as a “victim” or otherwise, hoped to avoid the expenditure of time and resources that it would incur if a trial took place, and it wanted to protect its employees from having to testify and thus be exposed to cross-examinati
ons designed to challenge their credibility for the purpose of advancing the interests of the defense. Thus, it would be advantageous to MIT if the parties achieved a resolution that would avoid trial, although MIT did not express a view on what that resolution should be.
The school did not want a trial, but declined to express that wish out loud.
The report goes on to ask whether MIT police should bolster their ability to handle cybercrime in house rather than deferring all cases to local, state or federal officials, and whether the school should review its electronic review policies. President Rief said the school will look at the questions over the summer.