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Have Questions For MIT's Aaron Swartz Review? 175

Posted by Soulskill
from the light-where-it-must-shine dept.
theodp writes "Explaining that it believes 'the most important questions are the ones that will come from the MIT community,' MIT announced that it won't be accepting questions from outsiders for its President-ordered 'review' of the events that preceded the suicide of Aaron Swartz. But if you feel the 25 questions asked thus far don't cover all the bases, how about posting additional ones in the comments where MIT'ers can see them and perhaps repost to the MIT site some that they feel deserve answers? Do it soon — MIT President Rafael Reif will be returning any day now from Davos, where he sat on a panel with Bill Gates, who coincidentally once found himself in hot water over unauthorized computer access. 'They weren't sure how mad they should be about it,' Gates explained in a 2010 interview, 'because we hadn't really caused any damage, but it wasn't a good thing. Computer hacking was literally just being invented at the time, and so fortunately we got off with a bit of a warning.'" Related: text has been published of public domain advocate Carl Malamud's remarks at Swartz's memorial. Quoting: "Aaron wasn't a lone wolf, he was part of an army, and I had the honor of serving with him for a decade. Aaron was part of an army of citizens that believes democracy only works when the citizenry are informed, when we know about our rights—and our obligations."
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Have Questions For MIT's Aaron Swartz Review?

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  • by An dochasac (591582) on Friday January 25, 2013 @11:57AM (#42692175)
    What steps has MIT taken to assure that publically funded research is published to the taxpaying public?
    • If you receive a tax deduction on your mortgage, is your house accessible to the taxpaying public? If you receive a tax deduction for dependents, are *they* "accessible" to the taxpaying public? What about those on social security? Welfare? Medicare? The point is, just because you receive money from the government, doesn't mean everything that money touches belongs to the public or in the public.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Sorry, but either your logic is broken or your head is deep within an asshole (perhaps your own). The Government funds research, meaning (possibly) your tax dollars pays for the materials, people, etc.. etc.. to produce something. Obviously this does not make those people working on the project available as items to the public. You don't have the right to make Johnny Scientist fold your laundry or tutor you in Science-y things.

        What the tax payers that funded the project should have access too is: The re

    • by tburkhol (121842)

      What steps has MIT taken to assure that publically funded research is published to the taxpaying public?

      All NIH funded research is freely accessible to the public no more than 12 months after private publication. [nih.gov] NSF requires something similar-but-different: that the raw data be made available for no more than incremental cost. The same publishers who run the biological journals run the non-bio journals, so similar arrangements could be made, but NSF has not forced it. Of course, the NIH budget is something like 5x the NSF budget (which is, in turn, about 3x DARPA), so the NIH policy means that the great

  • sheesh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 25, 2013 @11:58AM (#42692185)

    When someone walks in off the street, enters a wiring closet, and plugs a computer into your network you call the cops. What is so hard to understand about that? Swartz wasn't a student, faculty, or a guest of MIT.

    When someone repeatedly tries to get around the blocks you erect specifically for them and keeps screwing with your systems, you don't just suck it up and waste your time and money by continuing to play "whack a mole," you call the cops.

    That's why we have laws on the books for dealing with people who pull stunts like Swartz. The penalties range from probation to years in jail to handle the spectrum of severity. Swartz's crime wasn't that severe and he had no record so he was facing the small end of potential sentence.

    There was no issue with prosecuting the guy until victims found out that it was going to cause a lot of bad publicity. That's what this is all about. A bunch of folks with bully pulpits really liked the guy and are upset that he killed himself so they are looking for someone to blame.

    Theres nobody to blame but Swartz. He is the one that pulled the stunt. He is the one that was very sick. Blaming the prosecutors, JSTOR, or MIT for Swartz's death is simply revolting.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Hatta (162192)

      Swartz's crime wasn't that severe and he had no record so he was facing the small end of potential sentence.?

      35 years in federal prison is the small end?

      Theres nobody to blame but Swartz. He is the one that pulled the stunt. He is the one that was very sick. Blaming the prosecutors, JSTOR, or MIT for Swartz's death is simply revolting.

      Anyone who thinks that 35 years is anywhere near to appropriate for what Swartz did is far, far sicker than Swartz. And far, far more dangerous too.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I see you still haven't educated yourself on the federal sentencing guidelines or how criminal sentencing works in general. Nor have you read the interviews with Swartz attorneys where they explain he was being offered four months to plea guilty, the prosecutor was threatening to ask for seven years if they went to trial, and the defense's belief that the judge would give probation, which is a possibility under the sentencing guidelines for people like Swartz with no prior convictions. Quoting the press r

        • Re:sheesh (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Hatta (162192) on Friday January 25, 2013 @02:27PM (#42694215) Journal

          Swartz had a right to a trial. It is disingenuous to claim that the punishment was proportional to the crime if he had to give up his right to a trial to receive that punishment. No, it's not disingenuous, it's an outright lie.

    • by tilante (2547392)

      Here's the thing: breaking and entering wasn't the crime he was being charged with. If he had been charged with that, checking the Massachusetts sentencing guidelines, the worst he could have gotten was 12 months. More likely, he'd get a fine or probation.

      The crime the federal prosector decided to charge him with was "unauthorized access of a computer system". However, MIT has an open-access network policy, allowing anyone to use their network, and he had a legal account with JSTOR through his status

    • by chrismcb (983081)

      Theres nobody to blame but Swartz. He is the one that pulled the stunt. He is the one that was very sick. Blaming the prosecutors, JSTOR, or MIT for Swartz's death is simply revolting.

      Lets say the teenager who lives next door, keeps entering your yard and swimming in your pool. You've done everything to prevent it, and finally give up and call the cops.After calling the cops, you talk to the father of the teenager. The father convinces you he will punish the kid, and it will stop. So you tell the cops, nevermind, you don't want to press charges.
      But the DA decides to make an example of this teenager and attempts to sentence him to 20 years from multiple counts of trespassing. The DA con

  • Yes/No
  • by An dochasac (591582) on Friday January 25, 2013 @12:03PM (#42692255)
    What dividend should taxpayers expect when publically-funded funded MIT research is handed to private multinational companies?
  • by An dochasac (591582) on Friday January 25, 2013 @12:13PM (#42692375)
    JSTOR would not exist were it not for tax-funded public research. Neither would many of the other for-profit journals. Public (FBI...) resources are already used to defend the intellectual property of large private corporations. Should MIT also play the role of a tax-funded security force for private corporations? If so, does MIT also spend equivalent resources to protect the intellectual property of students and staff? How does MIT track public money used to support private ventures?
  • by RichMan (8097) on Friday January 25, 2013 @12:16PM (#42692421)

    All access to computers is automated. I push a button or move a mouse it becomes that is interperted by the device interface which becomes a coded interaction moveing through layers of interface code to an application. The application then does something with the input given it. It is all automated. What happens depends on all the layers.

    Browsers fetch all the data refered to on a "page" this can result in data fetches from 100's of places. I doubt any modern page is composed of data from a single fetch.

    The "page" displayed by a browser is composed of data from many sources. Your browser does this automatically following a ruleset built into it. How is this structurally different from a automated fetcher which follows its own rule set and gets data from many sources? The difference is not the automation of multiple fetches, it is not the interaction with the human, the only different is the ruleset used to do the collecting of data.

    My question is how do they describe how one automated rule set, say that used by a browser, is legal, while another ruleset, say that used by a sweeper is illegal? Both are fully automated fetch processes. They just have different rule-sets.

  • by bazmail (764941) on Friday January 25, 2013 @12:17PM (#42692431)
    Why is it that you get to review yourself?
    Shouldn't an external independent body be doing the reviewing (investigating)?
    Isn't there a clear and obvious conflict of interest in you reviewing yourself?
  • McDonalds, Starbucks, the local GasNSip and Grandma all have their Wifi secured with a minimum of WPA/WPA2, often with some kind of MAC filtering, encrypted traffic and IP address management. Why did MIT, one of the most prestigious technology campuses in the world, lack even some of the simplest internet security models? Is MIT unable to find qualified technical staff as McDonalds and Starbucks have? Is it not likely that MIT's students could sue for damage to their computers caused by internal and extern
    • Social engineering? I'm pretty sure some part of "hiding a scraping box in a closet" involves playing on expectations. Good luck beating that in a large organization without DHS-grade paranoia.
    • by Griff (17764)

      MIT made a choice to have an open wifi network, for use by guests. It wasn't open due to incompetence or ineptitude.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Have any government funding/grants been tied (spoken or implied) to MITs continued charges agains Aaron Swartz?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 25, 2013 @12:42PM (#42692763)

    How about this:

    The "wiring closet" where Aaron's laptop was connected to the switch, was also used by a homeless man to store his property.

    If MIT knowingly permitted the homeless man to use the closet, why would MIT or the DOJ prosecute/persecute Aaron for similarly storing his laptop there?

    If Aaron reasonably concluded that the use of the wiring closet was NOT off-limits, how did this not factor into the decision(s) by all parties involved in indicting Aaron? Did MIT not participate in review of the prosecution, or were the MIT or DOJ representatives unaware of the (unlocked and occupied) closet factor?

    If the closet was unlocked, and used by non-MIT individuals with MITs knowledge and permission, how does connecting a laptop to a switch IN THE SAME CLOSET rise to the level of "unauthorized"?

    If I am somewhere that I am allowed to be, and there is a network port or network switch in front of me, it is reasonable to conclude that connecting a laptop to that port or switch is permitted.

    Any "authorized" or "unauthorized" would, at that point, be strictly a logical, rather than physical, issue - exactly the same as accessing a server over wifi.

    And, given that the wifi usage was open, and wired connections did not require authentication, again, how did that rise to "unauthorized"?

    Whose decision was it, and how was that decision validated?

    Did the person making that decision do so in a manner that exceeded his/her authority, or in a manner inconsistent with PUBLISHED policies?

    A published policy may hold more legal weight, than the interpretation of an individual if the two are in any manner inconsistent.

  • by peter303 (12292) on Friday January 25, 2013 @12:52PM (#42692883)
    Internal hacks at MIT are a tradition. Good ones are celebrated. When an outsider physically entered a building and wiretapped a network to bypass a fire wall that was seen as an attack on property. In this case it got way overblown into a federal case. but there was still a crime here.
  • What steps has MIT taken to to ensure that the something like this will never happen again?

    And, in case there is any confusion, I am not referring to steps to protect data, but instead to keep a student from being persecuted by federal authorities with the full support of the university.

    • by ccb621 (936868)

      What steps has MIT taken to to ensure that the something like this will never happen again?

      And, in case there is any confusion, I am not referring to steps to protect data, but instead to keep a student from being persecuted by federal authorities with the full support of the university.

      He was not an MIT student or affiliated with MIT in any capacity. MIT has no obligation to protect a physical and electronic trespasser.

      • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

        What steps has MIT taken to to ensure that the something like this will never happen again?

        And, in case there is any confusion, I am not referring to steps to protect data, but instead to keep a student from being persecuted by federal authorities with the full support of the university.

        He was not an MIT student or affiliated with MIT in any capacity. MIT has no obligation to protect a physical and electronic trespasser.

        Okay, change the word student to person.

  • How can you sleep at night, Pontius?
  • Damage control? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cpghost (719344) on Friday January 25, 2013 @01:38PM (#42693507) Homepage
    1. What does MIT intend to do, to restore its reputation and the reputation of its Alumnis? Because, frankly, right now, it sucks to be associated with MIT, even retroactively.
    2. Historically, Universities used to keep the State out of the equation to foster a free(er) academic climate. What happened to this free culture at MIT, and when did it change so fundamentally?
    • by DrEasy (559739)
      Here's a few ideas:

      1- publicly funded research should not copyright protected. Have a university-wide policy for that. Easily enforced by tenure and promotion committees.
      2- to enable 1., get together with other top universities and start running a federation of open-access journals that are free to publish in and freely available to the public. Have your librarians run them.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Would you be supporting the DoJ to prosecute students who unlock their phones without carrier consent starting tomorrow?

    14 days prison sentence and a felony on their record for the plea bargain. Sounds about fair right?

  • by sesshomaru (173381) on Friday January 25, 2013 @06:40PM (#42696869) Journal

    For me, the main thing I want MIT to do is to take a clear institutional position on the following points:

    1. Do they believe that Aaron Swartz was indeed guilty of the felony counts he was charged with?

    This question is important because it deals with the plea bargain. Swartz should only have taken the plea bargain if he was indeed guilty, legally. If not, the correct thing to do was stand trial and contest the case in court. The prosecutor, and her husband, tout the plea bargain as though that dispenses of the 35-50 year prison sentence, but if the charges were "trumped up" then it would be morally wrong to expect someone to accept a plea bargain to dispense with them.

    In this case, "We don't know" is the same position as "No," because only if they believed he was definitely guilty, should he have taken the plea bargain. Plea bargains are only for guilty people, not innocent or possibly innocent ones.

    I don't expect MIT to give a clear answer to this, but I can dream.

    (This also doesn't determine whether Swartz should indeed have taken the plea bargain. That depends on whether he, himself, thought he was legally guilty or not, and we can't ask him about that. )

    2. The next question goes beyond the legal dimension and to the moral dimension:

    Does MIT, as an institution, believe that Swartz's crimes morally merited 35-50 years in a Federal Prison?

    This has nothing to do with the letter of the law as written. MIT can take the position that these are good laws well applied and that if Swartz were found guilty a lengthy prison sentence was indeed appropriate. Or they can take the position that these were bad laws or that they were badly applied. In other words, they can take the position that he was morally in the right, but legally he was in trouble.

    It also has nothing to do with what he would likely actually have gotten if he had been found guilty. Presumably the judge would have given a lighter sentence, but I believe the judge could have given him the entire 35-50 years. It was a possible outcome of a trial, therefore that's the baseline. The reason why I put "35-50" is because I've heard those numbers from different sources, some give a max of 35 and some give a max of 50. If MIT likes they can even say, "We believe Swartz deserved 35 years in prison but that 50 would be too much," as ridiculous as I consider that position to be.

    Oh, and I encourage them to explain what punishment Swartz morally deserved for what he did, what kind of prison time, community service, fines or probation they think would be just. Obviously, they had the chance, before Swartz solved the problem with his belt, to take a position as the case was ongoing. I'd like them to take a clear and unambiguous position, now.

    This is important. MIT is revered as having a "freewheeling" culture. This culture has enabled it to attract top talent from all over. People considering it as a school have the right to know it's moral position on the use of laws to prosecute "hacking" like what Aaron was doing.

    Oh, I've quoted Aaron's family in my signature. MIT probably thinks that quote is unfair. Answering these questions would help to determine that.

  • The MIT name has a lot of 'brand', in industry, in academia, and even with some Congress People. If MIT could help start a movement to amend the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to make it less draconian and Stalinistic, would it do it?

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