The Massachusetts Institute of Technology admits its neutral stance in the case of Internet activist Aaron Swartz failed to live up to its commitment to the free trade of ideas, according to an internal report released Tuesday.
MIT, however, emphasized that it did not engage in any wrongdoing.
Swartz was a renowned open-access advocate who hanged himself while awaiting trial for hacking into the school’s computers, according to the report
. He was charged in January of 2011 with illegally downloading more than 4 million academic articles from MIT’s JSTOR database, and he faced a sentence of more than 30 years in federal prison.
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The university and the U.S. Justice Department were criticized for their roles in pursuing the 26-year-old, who was seen by many as a hero in the movement to make information available for free.
The New York Times said that in a letter to students, faculty, and staff,
MIT President L. Rafael Reif applauded the report’s “careful account” that set “the record straight by dispelling widely circulated myths.” He said the report “makes clear that MIT did not 'target' Aaron Swartz, we did not seek federal prosecution, punishment or jail time, and we did not oppose a plea bargain.”
He also said the suicide meant the loss of “an exceptional leader” to the Internet community. Swartz was involved in the development of RSS feeds and Reddit.
MIT’s report did little to assuage critics of the institution’s handling of the case. Swartz’s girlfriend, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, told Bloomberg that MIT was hardly neutral
. She said lawyers gave prosecutors access to everything but refused to afford the same to Swartz’s attorneys.
“All MIT had to do was say publicly, 'We don’t want this case to go forward,’” she said. “MIT’s behavior throughout the case was reprehensible, and this report is quite frankly a whitewash.”
MIT professor Hal Abelson prepared the 180-page report at the request of the university’s president. It involved interviewing about 50 people and reviewing more than 10,000 pages of documents.
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