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'Dangerously Naive' Aaron Swartz 'Destroyed Himself' 362

theodp writes "In July, MIT drew criticism after issuing a report clearing itself in the suicide of Aaron Swartz. So, one wonders what Swartz supporters will make of The Lessons of Aaron Swartz, an MIT Technology Review op-edish piece penned by MIT EE/CS prof Hal Abelson, who chaired the review panel. Calling Swartz 'dangerously naïve about the reality of exercising that power [of technology], to the extent that he destroyed himself' (others say prosecutorial overreach destroyed him), Abelson questions 'whether the people who mentored Swartz and helped him achieve such brilliance and power had a responsibility to cultivate not only his technical excellence and his passion as an advocate but also, as my grandmother would have called it, seykhel-a wonderful Yiddish word that means a combination of intelligence and common sense.'"
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'Dangerously Naive' Aaron Swartz 'Destroyed Himself'

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  • Re:Common sense? (Score:5, Informative)

    by jythie ( 914043 ) on Saturday October 05, 2013 @11:41AM (#45044547)
    Thing is, the treatment is so randomly applied that it should be a surprise. We occasionally hear about stories that get big, but for the most part the same basic actions, even when discovered, result in minimal problems 99% of the time. One never knows when some ambitious DA will decide to up the profile of the case and make an example of the person.

    To say it was his fault is a bit like saying "well, this family was killed by a drunk driver, but they should have known better then to go on a highway when bars were closing". While technically true that their actions had a risk, the fault still was elsewhere and the odds were normally on their side.
  • Re:Common sense? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Saturday October 05, 2013 @11:44AM (#45044569)

    > Is there a yiddish word for asshole?

    (well, at least it is the neighbor of an asshole)

  • by HuguesT ( 84078 ) on Saturday October 05, 2013 @11:47AM (#45044583)

    People like Swartz are trying to change the world, much in the way older generations of engineers like some famous person from a large corporation called Steve, who also did things at a younger age that would be very sternly punished now.

    Did anyone teach the prosecutors to be reasonable as well? That would be a change. Right now prosecutors across the country wield unreasonable powers to threaten, harass and destroy people's life without check, which is unworthy of a democracy. Is there a review going on? Did anyone caught on that the USA has the highest imprisonment rate [wikipedia.org] of any country? Is the USA really more violent and dangerous than Russia or Cuba? I don't think so.

  • by LargeMythicalReptile ( 531143 ) on Saturday October 05, 2013 @12:44PM (#45045027)

    Well, Hal, if this is what it takes to let you sleep at night despite your and your school's part in Swartz's persecution, have at it. But I doubt too many people are buying it; at this late date pretty much everyone's mind is made up anyway.

    Including Slashdotters', apparently. But since you're making this about Abelson rather than Swartz, here are a few facts about the man you're casually brushing off.

    Abelson is an old Lisp hacker. He has a long history of standing up for Freedom, in the sense /. appreciates. He's on the Board of Directors of the FSF, and was in fact one of the directors at its founding. He has solidly been in support of David LaMacchia [wikipedia.org], bunnie Huang [hackingthexbox.com], and Keith Winstein [wikipedia.org].

    He has not shied away from standing up for freedom of information, even if there are heavy legal consequences involved.

    He also puts his money where his mouth is, releasing a number of his own works for free. Before ebooks were a thing, he made sure his book was available for free online [mit.edu]. He helped get OpenCourseWare [wikipedia.org] off the ground. Heck, he's released (under Creative Commons) video of some of his own lectures...from 1986 [mit.edu].

    He's an expert in the area (in addition to the above personal experience, he also teaches a course on Ethics and Law in the Electronic Frontier [mit.edu]). He also spent six months investigating and writing a book-length report about the Swartz case, and MIT's response to it, in particular. The summary describes the report as MIT "clearing itself"--while the report details that MIT did nothing legally wrong, it also goes into the moral and ethical issues of MIT's response without reaching a bright-line conclusion.

    So, with all of this as context, which is more likely:
    -Abelson is trying to make Swartz look like a bad guy in order that he can "sleep at night", or
    -The man with a long history of views and actions supporting freedom of information, with a background in ethics and law on computer-related issues, who quite possibly is the single individual who has done the most thinking about the details of the Swartz case and MIT's response to it (and certainly knows more about it and has thought more about it than any Slashdotter), honestly and genuinely thinks that Swartz was naive about the realities of the situation he got himself into....and maybe, just maybe, it might make sense to give at least a small amount of genuine, honest consideration to his views?

To write good code is a worthy challenge, and a source of civilized delight. -- stolen and paraphrased from William Safire