Less than 48 hours after Aaron Swartz’s tragic suicide, the institution involved in his high-profile JSTOR incident (that eventually lead to federal charges) has issued a statement.
MIT President Rafael Reif e-mailed the members of the university community this morning to address the situation, despite Swartz never having a formal affiliation with the school. Reif emphasized he was compelled to comment not only because of MIT’s role in the JSTOR incident, but also because Swartz was beloved by many within the MIT community. The president’s tone was clear throughout: “It pains me to think that MIT played any role in a series of events that have ended in tragedy.”
In light of such an acknowledgement, Reif appointed professor Hal Abelson to lead a thorough analysis of the school’s involvement, “from the time that we first perceived unusual activity on our network in fall 2010 up to the present.” Reif asked Abelson to outline options MIT had plus the decisions the institution made, and he promised to share the report with the MIT community once it’s received.
The moment of infamy came back in 2010, as Swartz logged onto MIT’s network to scrape millions of academic papers from JSTOR. Administrators booted his laptop off the Wi-Fi network, but Swartz then entered an MIT network closet and plugged his laptop directly in. From there the feds got involved: Swartz was arrested and charged with multiple counts of computer hacking, wire fraud, and other crimes. The situation still hadn’t been resolved as late as fall 2012, when the feds ratcheted up the charges in September. Swartz faced more than 50 years in prison if convicted on all charged.
Reif’s full statement is below (and it can also be accessed on the MIT Tech blog, along with the outlet’s other Swartz coverage). As plenty continue to grieve, murmurs of small protests on the MIT campus emerged this morning and thousands have taken to Twitter to participate in the #pdftribute, a slew of academics posting PDFs in honor of Swartz.
Reif’s original e-mail
To the members of the MIT community:
Yesterday we received the shocking and terrible news that on Friday in New York, Aaron Swartz, a gifted young man well known and admired by many in the MIT community, took his own life. With this tragedy, his family and his friends suffered an inexpressible loss, and we offer our most profound condolences. Even for those of us who did not know Aaron, the trail of his brief life shines with his brilliant creativity and idealism.
Although Aaron had no formal affiliation with MIT, I am writing to you now because he was beloved by many members of our community and because MIT played a role in the legal struggles that began for him in 2011.
I want to express very clearly that I and all of us at MIT are extremely saddened by the death of this promising young man who touched the lives of so many. It pains me to think that MIT played any role in a series of events that have ended in tragedy.
I will not attempt to summarize here the complex events of the past two years. Now is a time for everyone involved to reflect on their actions, and that includes all of us at MIT. I have asked Professor Hal Abelson to lead a thorough analysis of MIT’s involvement from the time that we first perceived unusual activity on our network in fall 2010 up to the present. I have asked that this analysis describe the options MIT had and the decisions MIT made, in order to understand and to learn from the actions MIT took. I will share the report with the MIT community when I receive it.
I hope we will all reach out to those members of our community we know who may have been affected by Aaron’s death. As always, MIT Medical is available to provide expert counseling, but there is no substitute for personal understanding and support.
With sorrow and deep sympathy,