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Have Questions For MIT's Aaron Swartz Review? 175

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 @12:57PM (#42692175)
    What steps has MIT taken to assure that publically funded research is published to the taxpaying public?
  • sheesh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 25, 2013 @12:58PM (#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:My Question (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GovCheese ( 1062648 ) on Friday January 25, 2013 @01:06PM (#42692287)
    "One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty," is what MLK said from a Birmingham jail. It's a sentiment I wish would enter the conversation more often when we talk about how to do civil disobedience the right way.
  • Re:My Question (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MyLongNickName ( 822545 ) on Friday January 25, 2013 @01:09PM (#42692331) Journal

    Yup. Basically you have a child who was socialized to believe that as long as he felt he was right, his actions are justified and would not carry consequences. Even if he is morally right with his belief that this information SHOULD be free (not saying he is), he either has to comply with the laws or be willing to suffer the consequences to sand up for his beliefs.

    Aaron is not a hero. Faced with adversity, he took the coward's way out.

  • by An dochasac ( 591582 ) on Friday January 25, 2013 @01:13PM (#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 @01:16PM (#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 @01:17PM (#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?
  • Re:My Question (Score:4, Insightful)

    by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Friday January 25, 2013 @01:36PM (#42692683) Journal

    Hm. This seems to be modded insughtful. It's full of hyperbole.

    Why should we feel sorry for a criminal who

    Firstly he wasn't a criminal until ried in a court of law.

    Secondly you say criminal like it's automatically a bad thing. Criminality is orthogonal from morality. They line up more than 50% of the time in a sane society, but there is nothing wrong with being a criminal. You've probably committed 5 felonies today unwittingly.

    who chose to commit suicide rather than accept a a six month plea bargain for breaking and entering and accessing systems he shouldn't be accessing?

    Plea bargaining is a fundementally broken system. So, basically, the prosecutor and police lie to load up as many false and inflated accusations as possible in order to bully someone into accepting something else. Basically, by accepting he would be tacitly admitting that the prosecutors were right. He chose to take the moral high ground, and you call *that* cowardly?

    I mean our heroes are allowed to do whatever they want without consequence, right?

    What's that even supposed to mean?

  • by MyLongNickName ( 822545 ) on Friday January 25, 2013 @02:04PM (#42693031) Journal

    Clinging to a life with zero quality? Aren't you being a bit dramatic about Aaron? Seriously? Or are you mistaking my argument for saying that suicide is NEVER good? If so, you need to learn about context.

  • Re:sheesh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Friday January 25, 2013 @02:33PM (#42693423) Journal

    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.

  • Re:My Question (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tnk1 ( 899206 ) on Friday January 25, 2013 @02:34PM (#42693433)

    I don't believe he was a hero. Not for this.

    However, upon consideration, I don't think he was a coward either. What happened is that with his clinical depression he couldn't handle the stresses of civil disobedience (ie. jail time if caught). It was probably not a good idea to involve himself because of his condition, but I imagine he probably had little idea of exactly what sort of pain he would call down on himself.

    It is sad that this happened, but he might have just as easily ended up committing suicide later anyway. Depression is a real condition, and cowardice really doesn't come into it, any more than PTSD is cowardice.

    This should be a wake up call to those who believe that civil disobedience is some sort of get of of jail free card. It isn't. It is a statement and an exposition of the injustices of a situation. In that event, one must expect, at the very least, to have injustice visited upon them when fighting it.

  • Re:My Question (Score:4, Insightful)

    by geekymachoman ( 1261484 ) on Friday January 25, 2013 @02:48PM (#42693643)

    >> Why should we feel sorry for a criminal who chose to commit suicide rather than accept a a six month plea bargain for breaking and entering and accessing systems he shouldn't be accessing?
    >> Oh, and please mod me down. I am seriously trolling here, and it couldn't possibly be a legitimate question. I mean our heroes are allowed to do whatever they want without consequence, right?

    Part of the reason he commited suicide is probably because... on this world, the likes of you.. exist. Sometimes it's really hard to deal with that fact.
    If he's gonna be branded a coward, it's only because he couldn't or didn't want to it anymore. This what he did is seriously wrong, but not from your standard stupid moral ideas, it's because the society in which we all live provide environment in which people could become desperate enough to do suicides.

    So you're the criminal, Mr. AC, and all the other people that shaped this reality to be ... this. What it is now.
    Where people with good intentions, not selfish, with a vision passion and will, end up comitting suicide.

    And eventually, history will remember people like you to be no more then traitors of life and justice. For now, enjoy your "5 minutes" and go f y' self.

  • Re:sheesh (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Friday January 25, 2013 @03:27PM (#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 Aguazul2 ( 2591049 ) on Friday January 25, 2013 @04:53PM (#42695199)
    He faced 6 months if he accepted the plea bargain, effectively admitting that his moral position was wrong, admitting that he was nothing more than a common cracker and thief, accepting that the people in authority must always be respected even if they are obviously wrong and dangerously blind to reality. I can see why he might be unable to do that. That leaves the 30+-year alternative. Probably he didn't anticipate having that thrown at him. He was engaging in a form of protest. According to your logic, any street protester should be ready for 2 years of daily waterboarding from the FBI. The punishment was completely out of proportion to the offence. His suicide doesn't make him a hero. His actions while alive do to some extent, though.
  • by sesshomaru ( 173381 ) on Friday January 25, 2013 @07:40PM (#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.

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