EFF: MIT was not "neutral" on Aaron Swartz; actively assisted in his prosecution



The bastards MURDERED him. They tortured a frail young man to suicide - they murdered him as surely as if they had stuck a knife in his chest with their own hands.

I DARE M.I.T. (Murdering Intelligent Technologists!) to sue me. I DOUBLE DOG DARE THEM. I will continue to tell everyone that MIT murdered Aaron Swartz with the assistance of Federal prosecutors until the end of time BECAUSE IT’S TRUE.


Don’t expect MIT to hold itself accountable. The only thing that will make the institution change its behavior is the threat of lost tuition money and lost alumni contributions. Grads and current students need to make it clear to the administration that this is unacceptable, and potential students need to make it clear that they won’t attend an institution that betrays its own ideals. Snitches get stitches.


Caltech is better anyway

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You are correct. Money talks more to them that ethical considerations. If they did this one time, they will do it again.


Hounding someone into causing their suicide is nearly as bad as willfully setting a trap to kill them.

Yeah… eat some shitsnax MIT. You guys are fucking tools. It is every MIT graduate’s responsibility to steal everything that isn’t bolted down. I’m personally going to be as humanly unpleasant to any MIT employee or graduate I meet as revenge.

@AnonKopimi don’t get mad dude: get even. MIT assholes are going to pay.

And of course MIT’s belief that Aaron’s access might be unauthorized (as in violation of MIT’s policies or maybe JSTOR’s) is why they called the police

These guys might know tech but they SURE don’t have a very good grasp of the English language. Aaron was entirely authorised to access JSTOR the way he did. “Unauthorised Access” would be if he didn’t have legitimate access to the database. Even if you breach the rules of a network, that does not automatically make your access unauthorised. Your access or authorisation to a database MAY be revoked for breaches of network rules, but to assert his access was unauthorised is bone-headed and plain wrong. Authorisation does not and can not automatically revoke itself - especially when the act in question is not caught in real time and also in cases where the access in question is in a legal grey area.

Furthermore, and this has been argued by many, sine JSTOR has no rules on the volume of data which authorised users are permitted to access, they were basically inviting Aaron to rip the db. If he was to have sat there for a year, painstakingly clicking each individual link and storing each report then they would have had NO leg to stand on legally. Their argument was basically that an office worker should be imprisoned for using spell check instead of manually spell-checking each word. Anyway, as stated above: go fuck yourself MIT and MIT graduates. You guys are the wreaking butthole of the tech world at the moment.

Stop being a dick. I agree that Anon is exhibiting a bit of hyperbole there, but it’s not a long stretch to suggest that the government was complicit in his suicide, considering the prosecutor was trying to put him up for as much as possible to build her career, on charges that were completely inappropriate for his actions (which resulted in a precisely $0 loss for MIT or anyone else).

Like I said: I wouldn’t label it murder, but I would hold them partially responsible. If the government hadn’t pushed for far worse punishment than his alleged actions deserved then it’s a good chance he’d still be with us. I’d criticise you for trivialising Aaron’s suicide. Murder happens, but it usually not comitted by the state. That’s the awful thing here: In this case the state (and, by extension, every tax-paying American) is partially responsible for Aaron’s death.

BB is the only place I’ve been following this story, so if this has happened without being reported here then please say so, but why has the student body not retaliated in any way? I mean, if any student body could retaliate in an epic yet nonviolent fashion, wouldn’t MIT be a top contender considering electronic attacks? Schwartz was one of their own, aren’t they pissed? Is this truly a case of the current generation being useless? Or does the high tuition attract a student body that leans towards being complacent and conservative? I was hoping to see robot and drone attacks on unoccupied administration buildings, EMPs, the whole nine.

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And it’s in the interests of students to do so, since this kind of thing is part of a behaviour pattern. (Compare to the treatment of Star Simpson, whom MIT threw under a bus in public within minutes of her arrest, long before having any idea what was actually going on.)

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The EFF statement regarding this case is fairly disgusting. Far from acknowledging that Swartz had a lifelong and complicated battle with mental illness, which was fundamentally the root cause of his suicide, it jettisons that whole discussion and absorbs the whole of Swartz’s death into its cause. The EFF is quite literally profiting off Swartz’s death, eliciting donation after donation in its noble quest to “avenge”.

If you care for the person that was Aaron Swartz, why not donate to mental health organizations, depression hotlines, funding for therapy and communications programs, for outreach programs. The EFF has made it clear what it cares about, and that should leave a bitter taste in your mouth.


I was sure you were being facetious, and I thought you were making a good point through it. But now you’re just making those who support Aaron’s cause look like lunatics.

The narrative trend from those who are vilifying MIT seems clear to me. First MIT “called in the Feds” in a heavy-handed move to take down this freedom fighter. Well, OK, they just brought in the Cambridge police to investigate a suspicious character creeping in the network closets and guarding his face from the security cameras. But they DEFINITELY pushed the prosecution to hound Aaron to his death! Well, OK, technically they didn’t request prosecution and actively told the prosecutor that they sought no punishment. But, they REALLY gave the prosecution preferential treatment!

This “preferential treatment” is the last tenuous thread in the idea that MIT meant Aaron special harm, and it just doesn’t have the punch of the earlier allegations. Even if the preferential treatment is true, I’m not even sure they should be embarrassed about it. While years in prison is a ridiculous, you might think that MIT would want SOME sort of deterrent for someone breaking into network closets and getting them kicked off JSTOR.

The bottom line for me is that even Aaron knew what he was doing was illegal, and that if he were caught he would have to face some kind of repercussions. He hid from the security cameras, he snuck around in network closets after hours and camouflaged his planted laptops. When caught, he actually ran from the MIT police. This whole case is terribly sad, and it’s made sadder by the fact that Aaron never actually had a day in court. The mental illness side of this story has been buried by people with agendas, and that doesn’t do Aaron’s memory any good.


For me , MIT has a history of ‘hacks’ and ‘pranks’ and being cool.

This prosecutor has a history of being an asshole and being cruel and vindictive with their prosecutions.

Having known people who were victims of prosecutors wanting to “make a career out of a case”, even when the person wronged has asked them not to, the power to prosecute doesn’t lie with the victims of the crimes. The power to prosecute ALWAYS lies with the prosecutor. Even if the victim said “we’re withdrawing anything we can withdraw”, the prosecutor can turn around and say “You’ve already submitted evidence of a crime, I’ve got an indictment, and I’ll call you and put you under oath and treat you as a hostile witness on the stand. If you don’t comply, you get to go to jail for obstruction of justice.”

I’ve seen this happen personally, this particular prosecutor has a history of doing it.

It doesn’t even matter what MIT said or didn’t say. The moment this prosecutor got the case, and saw a future career with it, MIT’s involvement and stance was irrelevant.


Yes and no. MIT is a well-respected, major institution, with ample access to media. And it is an institution, not an individual human being. It isn’t subject to the same kind of pressures an individual person would be, and if it chose it would have been able to make the case less attractive to a prosecutor looking for “glory” or whatever. That said, agreed that the prosecutor seemingly has a lot to answer for.

Oh, I’m not exonerating MIT. I’m just saying that their involvement in the prosecution (and persecution) of Aaron Swartz is irrelevant in the long run. They could have shouted out from the rooftops that he was an innocent man, and that prosecutor whose assistant compared him to a “rapist” would still be pushing for 50+ years.

Maybe MIT could have or should have said more to defend him. I don’t think it would have made a difference considering the railroading that prosecutor has done in the past.


Everyone has a breaking point, a point at which they would rather die than continue to live under some set of conditions. For some the threshold is higher than for others, but everyone has a breaking point.

If you obtain a position of power over someone, a relationship from which they cannot escape, and then you abuse that power and torment them (and make no mistake, having decades of prison time hanging over your head for a trivial transgression is torture), you are responsible if they cross reach their breaking point before you expected it.

Eggshell Skull rule

Suicide is a personal choice, but to hold tormentors blameless when their victim comes to see suicide as the the only possible escape is an egregious example of blaming the victim.

An important point here: Aaron Swartz was not actually a member of the MIT community, as MIT (and as most of the community) defines that phrase. Related community? Sure. But MIT had no inherent responsibility to protect him from the prosecution or from himself.

If he’d been a student or staff or otherwise connected more directly to MIT, I do think they’d have taken more action on his behalf.

Even MIT’s history of protecting its own has weakened somewhat in recent years. And MIT distinguishes pretty clearly between prank and theft; Aaron’s activity was more than prank.

A college, too, is a company. You can’t automatically expect them to react any differently than if he’d tried the same thing in a network closet at any other company, unless they have a good reason for cutting some slack. Generalized “information wants to be free” is not a sufficiently good reason from their point of view – and in fact you also have to remember that as a company they’re going to default to being on the side of defending intellectual property since they’ve got lots of their own which they don’t want compromised.

Is it a tragedy? Sure. But the suicide was his decision, and the data theft was his decision, and while I think he should have gotten some help to prevent the outcomes of both I don’t particularly see MIT as having done anything dishonorable here. The worst I can say of them is that they didn’t do anything especially noble either. They decided this particular copyfight wasn’t an issue they wanted to get involved in either way, and given that I wasn’t out there protesting either I can’t blame them.

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So you think he should have been taken into protective custody so they could maintain a suicide watch? Be careful what you ask for.

I can’t imagine why the “Electronic Frontier Foundation” my have a specific set of priorities in this case…

I didn’t say that, or think that at all, thank you very much.

But it would be interesting if prosecutors had to weigh the risk of driving a suspect to suicide against the merits of the case.

I wonder how the request to a judge would go…

“Your Honor, we have a piss poor case against this guy, but we think there is a lot of political traction to be gained by appearing to be tough on cyber-crime. The punishment we are threatening is wildly disproportionate to the alleged crime, but that’s just a technique to put pressure on the poor SOB. We don’t want him to do anything rash in response to our trumped up charges, so we’d like to place him in pre-trial confinement on suicide watch. Would you just put your signature here?”

It makes for an interesting thought experiment to wonder how many judges would actually retch when presented with such a request.