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MIT Actively Participated In Aaron Swartz Prosecution

Aaron Swartz

New information on MIT’s conduct in the Swartz affair seems to contradict earlier statements from the university that it was not an active participant in the investigation and only reluctantly participated in the prosecution.

From the New York Times:

Mr. Swartz’s actions presented M.I.T. with a crucial choice: the university could try to plug the weak spot in its network or it could try to catch the hacker, then unknown.

The decision — to treat the downloading as a continuing crime to be investigated rather than a security threat that had been stopped — led to a two-day cat-and-mouse game with Mr. Swartz and, ultimately, to charges of computerand wire fraud…

Mr. Swartz’s supporters called M.I.T.’s decision a striking step for an institution that prides itself on operating an open computer network and open campus — the home of a freewheeling programming culture.

MIT’s decision to launch an operation to catch “the hacker” who was downloading too many free articles lead to a “cat and mouse” game with MIT using hidden cameras and electronic surveillance against Swartz. The information collected from that game was turned over to prosecutors despite MIT not being a law enforcement organization acting under an official warrant.

“This was a pivotal moment,” said Elliot Peters, Mr. Swartz’s lawyer. “They could have decided, we’re going to unplug this computer, take it off the network and tell the police to get a warrant.”

Mr. Peters had persuaded a judge to hear his arguments that the evidence collected from the netbook be excluded from the trial, asserting that Mr. Swartz’s Fourth Amendment protections from unlawful search and seizure had been violated. (All charges against Mr. Swartz were dropped after his death.)

MIT also told Swartz’s father in two separate meetings that MIT was compelled by the government to hand over information, not that the university had conducted an operation that gathered information on Swartz which it then volunteered to authorities.

Photo by Fred Benenson under Creative Commons license

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Dan Wright

Dan Wright

Daniel Wright is a longtime blogger and currently writes for Shadowproof. He lives in New Jersey, by choice.