Last Saturday, January 11th, 2014, was the one year anniversary of the death of Aaron Swartz. Much has been written here and elsewhere on the conduct of government officials whom treated Swartz as a threat and their misjudgement in doing so. Beyond some of Swartz’s FBI files which were released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the Secret Service lost a court case and has been ordered to publish all their files on Swartz online.
But while we find out more and more about the government’s role in destroying Swartz we also learn more about the shameful conduct of MIT. Conduct recently criticized by one of MIT’s most well known and accomplished professors, Noam Chomsky.
“The MIT investigation seemed to me reasonably well done. MIT’s contribution to the tragedy was mostly negative: It didn’t take aggressive measures to try to free him from the charges, or at least mitigate them, as it should have,” Chomsky told HuffPost. “Part of the tragedy is that there were apparently very good opportunities to reduce the punishment to something fairly limited, nothing like the crazy threats of the prosecution in the early days.”
Chomsky’s critique is shared by many including Aaron Swartz’s father, Robert Swartz, who has stated MIT was not neutral and actively helped destroy his son.
The law used to destroy Swartz remains unchanged. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) is still being used today in selective political prosecutions. Computer crime charges are often used to target activists with Barrett Brown being an example.
As activists look to change the CFAA, a new film featuring Swartz is set to be released called The Internet’s Own Boy. The film recounts Swartz’s life and his involvement in the battle against SOPA.