Report: MIT couldn’t have prevented Aaron Swartz death

Internet activist Aaron Swartz, seen here at a conference in May 2012, committed suicide in January. (peretzp/flickr)
Internet activist Aaron Swartz, seen here at a conference in May 2012, committed suicide in January. Credit:peretzp/flickr

A report released today by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said the Cambridge school could not have taken any specific action to prevent the suicide of Aaron Swartz, the Internet sharing activist who was facing criminal charges for allegedly hacking into an MIT database. 

“Even today, with the benefit of hindsight, we have not found a silver bullet with which MIT could have simply prevented the tragedy,” the report said.

The report by MIT computer science professor Harold Abelson was given to school officials Friday and was made public today. The report was requested by MIT President L. Rafael Reif in January, which is also when Swartz hanged himself inside his Brooklyn, N.Y., apartment.

The more than 160-page report also criticizes MIT for failing to show leadership and taking a neutral position after the 26-year-old, who helped create the Internet program RSS and Demand Progress, was arrested.

“[By] responding as we did, MIT missed an opportunity to demonstrate the leadership that we pride ourselves on. Not meeting, accepting and embracing the responsibility of leadership can bring disappointment. In the world at large, disappointment can easily progress to disillusionment and even outrage, as the Aaron Swartz tragedy has demonstrated with terrible clarity,” the report said.

Countless outpourings of sympathy were posted online after Swartz’s death, and even his family and partner released a statement in which they blamed MIT for his suicide.

The report also stated that one of its significant findings was that the school never requested that Swartz be prosecuted. Reif highlighted that finding in a letter to the MIT community.

“I am confident that MIT’s decisions were reasonable, appropriate and made in good faith. The report confirms my trust in the members of the MIT community involved in the Swartz events,” Reif wrote.

Swartz faced up to 35 years in prison and a fine of $1 million if convicted on charges of wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information and recklessly damaging a protected computer.

It was alleged that Swartz broke into a restricted computer wiring closet in a basement at MIT in order to download a major portion of archived digitized academic journals onto his computer.

The journals were a part of JSTOR, a paid subscription database used to access millions of primary sources. Some universities pay as much as $50,000 for an annual subscription.

Follow Michael Naughton on Twitter @metrobosmike.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

MTA announces service changes for Sunday

The MTA has announced service changes ahead of Sunday's People's Climate March, which will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday. Riders using…

Local

NYPD launches Twitter account for L train

The NYPD recently launched a Twitter handle dedicated to the L train and its riders. According to @NYPDLtrain, officers went underground Thursday morning to hand…

Local

Bushwick community space offers activists a place to…

A new Bushwick community space offers community activists to meet, create, learn and throw back a few cold ones. MayDay, located 214 Starr Street in Bushwick,…

Local

Activists gearing up for Sunday's "historic" People's Climate…

If all goes according to plan, more than 100,000 people will gather near Central Park West on Sunday morning and march through midtown to raise…

Arts

EXCLUSIVE: Backstage with Adam Jacobs at 'Aladdin' on…

Metro shadowed Adam Jacobs backstage at "Aladdin" on Broadway.

Movies

Review: Terry Gilliam's 'The Zero Theorem' is better…

Terry Gilliam's latest, "The Zero Theorem," concerns a reclusive malcontent (Christoph Waltz) struggling with the search for the meaning of life.

Music

Esperanza Spalding and a being called Emily get…

Esperanza Spalding is about to spiral off in a brand new direction that may or may include an alter ego named Emily.

Movies

Review: Bickering family dramedy 'This is Where I…

A talented cast sits Shiva in the bickering family dramedy "This is Where I Leave You," although it's more sap than yuks.

NFL

J.J. Watt poses unique challenges to struggling Giants…

Watt, arguably the best defensive player in the league, is the leader of a surprising Texans (2-0) team that has already matched last season’s win total.

NFL

Eric Decker 'unlikely to play' against Bears: Source

Jets wide receiver Eric Decker's status for Monday night’s game against the Bears is in doubt after he missed practice again Wednesday.

NFL

Preston Parker, not Odell Beckham, will replace Jerrel…

Tom Coughlin noted the next man up will be unheralded veteran Preston Parker.

NFL

NFL Week 3 full schedule (kickoff time, TV)

NFL Week 3 full schedule (kickoff time, TV)

Parenting

A sneaky way to serve kids fruits and…

"My First Juices and Smoothies" gives smoothie recipes for kids.

Style

3 things we love from Day 1 of…

The highlights from Day 1 of Milan Fashion Week.

Sex

Why don't more couples use condoms?

  Call it the “condom moment.” That’s the name the authors of a new study have given to the pivotal conversation every couple should be…

Sex

Need an idea for a first date? Here's…

Picture your idea of a nice first date. Is it dinner and a movie? A visit to an interesting museum exhibit? Instead, an expert on…