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

Brooklyn man charged in roommate's stabbing death

A Brooklyn man accused of violently stabbing his roommate to death on Monday is in police custody and faces murder charges.

International

Dinosaurs could have survived asteroid strike

It turns out there is a good and a bad time for the planet to be hit by a meteor, and dinosaurs were just unlucky.…

National

OkCupid admits to Facebook-style experimenting on customers

By Sarah McBrideSAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - OkCupid, a top U.S. matchmaking website, intentionally mismatched users to test its technology, the IAC/InterActive Corp service said on…

Local

MTA fares still increasing 4 percent in newly…

The agency said the 4 percent increases, previously announced in December, will remain steady even as the MTA deals with increasing labor costs.

Movies

Interview: Brendan Gleeson on the way 'Calvary' depicts…

Brendan Gleeson talks about how his new film "Calvary" began over drinks and how his character here is the opposite of the lead in "The Guard."

Movies

'Get on Up' producer Mick Jagger on the…

Mick Jagger, a producer on the James Brown biopic "Get on Up," talks about the time had to tell the singer some bad news and his favorite JB record.

Television

'Glee' star Lea Michele to appear on 'Sons…

"Glee" star Lea Michele has been confirmed as a guest star in the final season of "Sons of Anarchy."

Television

TV watch list, Monday, July 28: 'The Bachelorette'…

See Andi Dorfman make her big choice on tonight's 'Bachelorette' finale.

MLB

Angelo Cataldi: Ryan Howard deserves better from Phillies

Just last week, Ryan Howard endured the embarrassment of a benching that was inevitable, and yet still shocking.

NFL

Larry Donnell has inside track in Giants tight…

Little-known Larry Donnell of Grambling State currently has the inside track, as the second-year player has received the bulk of the first-team reps.

NFL

Computer to Jets: Start Michael Vick over Geno…

Jets general manager John Idzik says the choice of who starts between second-year quarterback Geno Smith and veteran Michael Vick will be a “Jets decision.”

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

Travel

Glasgow: Hey, hey, the gangs aren't here

This European city has done a good job getting rid of its more violent residents and revitalizing with artists.

Education

Babson College tops list of best colleges for…

Money magazine has just released its inaugural list of "The Best Colleges for Your Money" -- and the answers have surprised many. Babson College, which…

Education

NYC teens learn how to develop apps during…

Through a program sponsored by CampInteractive, the high schoolers designed their own community-focused apps.

Tech

The Ministry of Silly Walks app is both…

Monty Python have dug into their back catalogue for cash-ins once more, but with the Ministry of Silly Walks app, they've made something that's fun too.