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Aaron Swartz Case: Deja Vu All Over Again For MIT 175

Posted by timothy
from the still-want-an-mit-shirt dept.
theodp writes "On Saturday, questions for MIT's Aaron Swartz investigation were posted on Slashdot with the hope that MIT'ers might repost some to the MIT Swartz Review site. So it's good to see that MIT's Hal Abelson, who is leading the analysis of MIT's involvement in the matter, is apparently open to this workaround to the ban on questions from outsiders. In fact, on Sunday Abelson himself reposted an interesting question posed by Boston College Law School Prof. Sharon Beckman: 'What, if anything, did MIT learn from its involvement in the federal prosecution of its student David LaMacchia back in 1994?' Not much, it would appear. LaMacchia, an apparent student of Abelson's whose defense team included Beckman, was indicted in 1994 and charged with the 'piracy of an estimated million dollars' in business and entertainment computer software after MIT gave LaMacchia up to the FBI. LaMacchia eventually walked from the charges, thanks to what became known as the LaMacchia Loophole, which lawmakers took pains to close. 'MIT collaborated with the FBI to wreck LaMacchia's life,' defense attorney Harvey Silverglate charged in 1995 after a judge dismissed the case. 'I hope that this case causes a lot of introspection on the part of MIT's administration. Unfortunately, I doubt it will.'"
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Aaron Swartz Case: Deja Vu All Over Again For MIT

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  • Petty (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ZorinLynx (31751) on Monday January 28, 2013 @08:35AM (#42714463) Homepage

    MIT sure seems like a petty and vengeful institution. I hope this makes some potential students think about their decision of school.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 28, 2013 @08:46AM (#42714507)

    "install a laptop, script file downloads,"
    You know those two things are legal don't you?

    "evade security, hide my identity"
    Yep, this too, completely legal. You as Anonymous Coward should know it's legal to hide your identity! Even Ortiz can come here and spout random garbage hiding her identity.

    "lie to campus police and be let go free of charge"
    This too, completely legal, campus police are just security guards with no special right to be told the truth.

    What he was charged with, was copyright infringement (possibly trespass), written up as hacking and wire fraud. The investigation is to whether the prosecutor was inflated the charges for her political gain. She has a history of it, the prosecutors office wasn't planning on big charges, then she took it off him.

    MIT are concerned that they may be a conspirator to this inflation-for-political-gain. See they can see the charges were inflated and they want to make sure their hands are clean of it. Prosecuting a crime based on the law of the crime is one thing, prosecuting on random inflated implausible charges in order to force a plea bargain to score a nice prosecution on your CV, is something quite quite different.

    The question now is if Ortiz can remain in office when her view of the law is so departed from the actual laws themselves.

    At best she's malicious, at worst she's incompetent*. Either way, that's not someone who should be a prosecutor, let along a head prosecutor.

    * I don't think she was incompetent, when she described copyright infringement as 'theft if theft' it showed a disregard for the law she was completely aware of.

  • Re:Petty (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Pale Dot (2813911) on Monday January 28, 2013 @08:50AM (#42714529)
    MIT isn't unique in this case where one department doesn't know what the other is doing. Bureaucratic incompetence, not malice, is the more likely culprit.
  • Re: Petty (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Urza9814 (883915) on Monday January 28, 2013 @09:10AM (#42714655)

    Swartz screwed up JSTOR access for everyone at MIT and repeatedly took down JSTOR servers, interfering with other labs and schools.

    ...by downloading files that he had permission to access.

    They both belonged in jail. Too bad they were both too privileged, pretty white boys to serve even a day.

    So the Slashdot effect is a crime now? Does that mean anyone who actually RTFAs is guilty of conspiracy?

  • by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Monday January 28, 2013 @09:30AM (#42714815) Homepage Journal

    AC has a point. Whether it be Swartz, or some lackwit from Outback, Nowhere - if you're going to challenge authority, you'd best be prepared for any consequences.

    Swartz freely engaged in questionable activities, of his own free will. No matter what he believed to be right, he declared war on the status quo. He didn't just challenge Mommy's decision over to much television - he challenged an entrenched system, armed with legions of lawyers, tons of money, and buttloads of unscrupulous business people.

    Swartz became a casualty because A: he couldn't imagine the forces that would brought to bear against him, and B: he was incapable of standing up to those forces.

    MIT may be somewhat culpable, but only Swartz decided to kill himself.

    I kinda like the guy. He was actually doing some good, I think. But - if a weak person decides to go one on two with a sumo wrestler and a professional boxer tag team, don't expect me to feel overly sorry for him when he gets pounded into a mudhole.

    I agree, the system is sick, but Swartz isn't what I would call a hero or a martyr.

  • by sribe (304414) on Monday January 28, 2013 @09:32AM (#42714829)

    1a. You can be (i)charged, (ii)prosecuted and a (iii)jury determines your guilt. This situation was at the first stage (i). No foul.

    So the next time you get a parking ticket, if you're charged with murder, you'd be OK with that because you'd get the chance to defend yourself in court?

    A gross exaggeration of course, but your statement "no foul" about the gross prosecutorial overreach in this case makes me feel sick. How can anyone possibly say that in good conscience???

  • by sribe (304414) on Monday January 28, 2013 @09:36AM (#42714865)

    On one hand supporters want to say that he isn't a criminal because he wasn't convicted. The same group wants to say he was punished unfairly though he received no sentence. Contradiction.

    Not at all. Being subjected to grossly exaggerated charges that only relate to your actual actions in the demented mind of a lunatic prosecutor, spending a fortune on lawyers, and living under the threat of bankruptcy AT BEST and at worst conviction with a monstrously disproportionate sentence--is most certainly punishment. You have to be a fucking sociopath to claim otherwise.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 28, 2013 @09:50AM (#42715005)
    The material he downloaded was all public domain, meaning he is 100% free to share anything he downloaded. What he did that was wrong was he violated the EULA which stated that the end user couldn't mass-download or use scripts to download.

    Essentially he got charged with wire fraud for breaking an EULA.
  • by nomadic (141991) <nomadicworld@nOSpaM.gmail.com> on Monday January 28, 2013 @09:50AM (#42715009) Homepage
    "This too, completely legal, campus police are just security guards with no special right to be told the truth."

    Actually campus police are usually sworn police officers under state statutes, just like municipal or county police.

    I think MIT was morally wrong in not pursuing this, and the U.S. attorneys' office overreached, but the whole issue is not as cut-and-dried as most people here would prefer you believe. I don't think Swartz was just a passive actor caught up in forces he had no control over, and framing the story that way does a disservice to the truth. Even the 6 month prison sentence under the plea bargain was unfair but not a legitimate cause for suicide and I don't think you can put all of that on the prosecutors' shoulders; I mean 6 months in a minimum security federal prison is not exactly hard time.
  • by TheMathemagician (2515102) on Monday January 28, 2013 @09:57AM (#42715073)
    They detected an intruder illegally breaking into their network and worked with the authorities to catch the perpetrator in the act. What happened afterwards is not MIT's fault. If you decide to "stick it to the man" then be prepared for some blowback.
  • by C0L0PH0N (613595) on Monday January 28, 2013 @11:26AM (#42716047)
    The University system should provide Sanctuary for its students. It takes the most brilliant and promising children of each generation, and takes the best of them to the frontiers of human knowledge, and encourages and teaches them to push and develop these frontiers. This is one of the highest callings of the University system. This also gives the Universities a great responsibility -- to protect those young bright minds who are going boldly where none has gone before. They need to provide Sanctuary for these students, to have their back when they push the boundaries of our society. This does not cover murder or other violent sociopathic acts. But it should protect students from most of the reckless overreaching laws, and especially in all gray areas of our society. Rather than give students up for minor unlawful activities, the University system should give them Sanctuary. When they do give them up, they break this Sanctuary promise to their students. They teach them and encourage them to the frontiers of our society, and then betray them when they give them up to local (or federal) gendarmes.

    I call on ALL University administrators to develop proactive policies of Sanctuary, which should include refusing EVER to give up students for minor or gray area "crimes". They should at the very least, refuse all cooperation with police agents, and at the best, provide a defense for students. But NEVER break your moral contract with the students you teach, by turning them over to outside law. This policy can include ejecting students who break University laws. But it should never extend further than sanctions or expulsions. The University systems should develop a non-cooperation understanding with all police forces. Exceptions only would include violent sociopathic crimes such as rape, murder, violent assault, bombings, etc. But the University should be a Sanctuary for non-violent crimes where the student (or faculty for that matter) is pushing the boundaries of society.

    This awesome article at New York University, The University as Sanctuary [nyu.edu], says it more powerfully and elegantly than I ever could.

"Why should we subsidize intellectual curiosity?" -Ronald Reagan

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