MIT’s efforts to track down Aaron Swartz, while under intense pressure from JSTOR, the not-for-profit that ran the journal database [he was accused of downloading millions of articles from], eventually would lead to felony computer crimes charges that might have brought years in jail. Swartz, 26, was under indictment when he committed suicide in January 2013.
Critics, both on campus and around the world, have accused MIT of abandoning its values celebrating inventive risk-taking by helping to doom a young man whose project — likely an act of civil disobedience to make information freely available — didn’t in the end cause serious harm.
MIT has insisted it maintained an appropriate, even compassionate, neutrality toward a determined hacker who stole 4.8 million articles and eluded numerous efforts to stop him before the college sought help from police.
But MIT’s brand of neutrality proved one with notable limits, according to a Globe review of more than 7,000 pages of discovery documents — many of them e-mails — from Swartz’s court case. In the wake of his death, both MIT and JSTOR posted online documents that they had turned over to authorities, a trove that drew little if any notice at the time. The Globe also obtained a number of e-mails related to the case not available publicly.
Only with a patient review of the complete record does the full picture of the dilemma MIT faced become clear, the Boston Globe reports. The aftershocks of the choices the institution made in the wake of the “ghost” continue to reverberate, on campus and off, more than a year after Swartz’s death.