In the report, the university admitted it didn't bother to really understand the federal government's computer crime charges against him or who he was. MIT says another factor in its "neutrality" was it discerned no public outcry related to Aaron Swartz. Swartz was not an MIT student, and MIT's response to the federal computer crimes case brought against him might well have been different if he had been.
Swartz, whose brother and father worked at the MIT Media Lab, was a Fellow at Harvard University's Safra Research Lab on Institutional Corruption. He was well-known as an innovator who even in his teen years had worked the World Wide Web Consortium and had become a free speech and civil rights advocate. According to the report, his father repeatedly sought help from MIT to intervene in some way on his son's behalf, but that never happened, and MIT's relationship with the Swartz legal defense team, which changed three times, remained strictly formal.
Swartz was arrested by the MIT police and an agent of the U.S. Secret Service in January of 2011 for breaking and entering related to a network wiring closet at MIT where a laptop computer he was inspecting had been identified as downloading a large volume of academic articles from the JSTOR database service starting in 2010 . In the report, MIT says it made the JSTOR database service available even to a "guest" network user on the MIT campus network which at the time allowed this type of "guest" access to visitors such as Swartz.
JSTOR itself, which believes about 80% of its database appeared to have been downloaded over time, reached a civil settlement with Swartz on June 3, 2011 to pay $26,500 to JSTOR -- composed of $1,500 in damages and $25,000 for attorneys' fees and costs.
JSTOR made it clear at the time it wasn't pressing for criminal charges and preferred no charges to be brought. It's not known what Swartz intended to do with this gigantic mass of scholarly articles which were returned to JSTOR. But in July the U.S. Attorney's Office in Boston pressed on with an indictment against Swartz related to felony charges under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Plea deals offered to Swartz by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Boston all included some jail time, which he rejected.
MIT did provide some information to the U.S. Attorney's Office before a subpoena was formally issued to MIT's general counsel's office on Jan. 27, 2011. The Swartz legal defense team says this violated federal law, but MIT rejects that argument, according to the report.
MIT says it decided to refrain from any statement of support for Swartz in part because it says it heard little support offered by others.
"There was a wide range of attitudes within the MIT community toward Aaron Swartz's actions on the MIT network," the report states. "Even among MIT's proponents of open access (and among Aaron Swartz's friends), there was a general agreement that he had done something wrong. A blanket statement opposing prosecution could have been perceived as extreme by many in the MIT community.
Beyond that, a position opposed to any prosecution at all could have been interpreted by many people as saying MIT was uninterested in respecting contractual agreements with licensors and was not serious about maintain the integrity of its network."
Swartz's family, close friends and public supporters reject the MIT report's conclusions.
"The report also claims that MIT didn't see enough public outcry, get enough feedback from their faculty or students, or think a statement would have made a difference -- but that isn't the kind of responsibility we expect from an institution like MIT," says Furman for the advocacy group Demand Progress. "It's just an excuse and a poor one at that," noting more than 50,000 people signed a petition for Swartz.