May 22, 2022

Boston Globe: “Swartz Not ‘Targeted’ by MIT, According to Review” & Link to Full Text Report

Note: We’ve updated this post (below) with:

1. Full Text of a Statement by Aaron Swartz’s Partner, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman

2. Statement and Materials From JSTOR

From The Boston Globe:

In a long-awaited public response to the death of Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide in January after being charged with hacking into MIT computers and illegally downloading millions of scientific journal articles, MIT officials today released an internal review of university actions, saying administrators never “targeted” the 26-year-old Internet activist and committed no wrongdoing.

The report, however, also raises concerns about university policies and whether MIT should have been more actively involved.

From a MIT News Release:

A much-anticipated report on MIT’s actions in relation to the case of Aaron Swartz, a young computer programmer and Internet activist who committed suicide in January, finds no wrongdoing on MIT’s part. But the report raises concerns about certain policies and procedures and whether MIT should have been more actively involved in the matter. The report offers a set of forward-looking questions for the Institute as a whole to address.

Compilation of the report, “MIT and the Prosecution of Aaron Swartz,” was led by Hal Abelson, the Class of 1922 Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, at the request of MIT President L. Rafael Reif in January. In conducting his review, Abelson was joined by MIT economist and Institute Professor emeritus Peter Diamond; attorney Andrew Grosso, a former assistant U.S. attorney; and MIT assistant provost for administration Douglas Pfeiffer, who provided staff support for the review panel.

Key Findings From the Report (via MIT News Release)

  1. Beginning in September 2010, MIT and JSTOR observed massive downloading of JSTOR articles by a laptop connected to MIT’s network. The downloading recurred in October and December, and bypassed MIT’s attempts to stop it. The scale of the downloading was large enough that it threatened to shut down JSTOR’s overall service.
  2. MIT did not learn that the person responsible for the downloading was Aaron Swartz until after his arrest, on an initial charge of breaking and entering.
  3. MIT called in a Cambridge Police detective to help with its investigation.  The detective arrived on campus accompanied by a federal special agent of the Secret Service, but the report found that MIT did not intentionally “call in the feds” to take over the investigation.
  4. MIT did not request that federal charges be brought against Aaron Swartz. It was not consulted about its opinion about appropriate charges or punishment, and it did not offer any.
  5. MIT was not involved in any plea negotiations, and was never asked — by either the prosecution or the defense — to approve or disapprove of any plea agreement.
  6. From early on in the prosecution, MIT adopted a position of neutrality. It did not issue any public statements in support of Aaron Swartz, or against him. MIT privately communicated to the prosecutor’s office that it should not think that MIT wanted jail time for Swartz. MIT did not advocate, whether publicly or privately, either for or against jail time
  7. Until Aaron Swartz’s suicide, few people urged MIT to take a position on the prosecution
  8. The report notes that faculty were divided on the issue and that there was little student interest.
  9. However, the report says that MIT’s neutrality stance did not consider factors including “that the defendant was an accomplished and well-known contributor to Internet technology”; that the law under which he was charged “is a poorly drafted and questionable criminal law as applied to modern computing”; and that “the United States was pursuing an overtly aggressive prosecution.” While MIT’s position “may have been prudent,” the report says, “it did not duly take into account the wider background” of policy issues “in which MIT people have traditionally been passionate leaders.”

Read the Full Text of Letter Sent to MIT Community by University President L. Rafael Reif

From the Letter:

Through the largest questions it poses around open access, intellectual property, responsibility and ethics in the digital domain, the report presents the MIT community with a significant opportunity to learn and lead, on matters of immediate and lasting importance. Because these questions bear so directly on the expertise, interests and values of the people of MIT, I believe we should explore them, respectfully debate our differences and translate our learning into constructive action.

Knowing the tragedy of Aaron Swartz’s death, I read the report with a tremendous sense of sorrow. His family and friends suffered a terrible personal loss, and the Internet community lost an exceptional leader. Even those of us who never knew him mourn the loss of someone so young and so brilliant.

I ask us to remember him and to come together as a community to discuss, deliberate, learn and act.

Direct to Full Text: Report to the President: MIT and the Prosecution of Aaron Swartz (182 pages; PDF)

Read MIT News Office FAQ About Report

Direct to Report to the President: MIT and the Prosecution of Aaron Swartz Released Documents
Primary documents.

See Also: MIT, JSTOR Filings Delay Release of Swartz FOIA Documents (July 25, 2012 via Library Journal)

UPDATE A: Statement About the Report by Aaron Swartz’s Partner Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman

“MIT’s behavior throughout the case was reprehensible, and this report is quite frankly a whitewash.

Here are the facts: This report claims that MIT was “neutral” — but MIT’s lawyers gave prosecutors total access to witnesses and evidence, while refusing access to Aaron’s lawyers to the exact same witnesses and evidence. That’s not neutral. The fact is that all MIT had to do was say publicly, “We don’t want this prosecution to go forward” – and Steve Heymann and Carmen Ortiz would have had no case. We have an institution to contrast MIT with – JSTOR, who came out immediately and publicly against the prosecution. Aaron would be alive today if MIT had acted as JSTOR did. MIT had a moral imperative to do so.

And even now, MIT is still stonewalling. Wired reporter Kevin Poulsen FOIA’d the Secret Service’s files on Aaron’s case, and judge ordered them to be released. The only reason they haven’t been is because MIT has filed an objection. If MIT is at all serious about implementing any reforms to stop this kind of tragedy from happening again, it must stop objecting to the release of information about the case.”

Update B: Statement and Materials from JSTOR (7/30/13)

JSTOR announced today the release of a detailed summary of the events surrounding the downloading of articles by Aaron Swartz from the JSTOR digital library in 2010.  Along with the summary, JSTOR has voluntarily released all of the evidence it provided under subpoena to the United States Attorney’s Office in relation to the case.

JSTOR released its summary and documents today following the public release of MIT’s report of its internal investigation to ensure the public has the most complete picture possible of what occurred and the evidence related to the case.

Direct to Overview, Summary and Documents (via JSTOR)

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.