The Aaron Swartz Report from MIT – Where did one of the world’s greatest institutions go wrong?

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Here is one tiny chunk of a significant report released July 26 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology concerning the role of the institution of  in the arrest and prosecution of Internet pioneer Aaron Swartz and his eventual suicide. 

Among the factors not considered were that the defendant was an accomplished and well-known contributor to Internet technology; that the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is a poorly drafted and questionable criminal law as applied to modern computing, one that affects the Internet community as a whole and is widely criticized; and that the United States government was pursuing an overtly aggressive prosecution. MIT’s position may have been prudent, but it did not duly take into account the wider background of information policy against which the prosecution played out and in which MIT people have traditionally been passionate leaders.

Professor Harold Abelson, who was tasked with conducting the report by MIT president L. Rafael Reif, has written a very balanced and yet nuanced report that effectively clears the institution of any overt wrongdoing, but it stops short of cleanly absolving the institution of its responsibility as a leader in the rarified air of world-renowned institutes of higher learning.

This particular paragraph lays out some of the harshest criticism, which hints at the institution’s failure to live up to its mission and perhaps even a corporate influence that has blindsided the “passion” with too much “prudence.” 

The main finding is that MIT is not culpable legally in any of this, but the deeper, underlying truths in this report reflect a very deep look at MIT’s purpose and whether or not it continues to live up to its own values. And, perhaps more importantly, whether or not the voices of passion and influence still reside within its walls. 


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