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Aaron Swartz’s dad knocks MIT report on Internet activist’s suicide


Aaron Swartz

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Updated: September 1, 2013 6:29AM

The father of an Internet activist and Highland Park native who killed himself while awaiting federal trial on hacking charges said MIT administrators are not “accepting the mistakes they made” in Aaron Swartz’s prosecution.

Swartz’s father, Robert, told the Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday that he thinks the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s report on the incident “made a good effort” to describe what happened but still should have advocated on Aaron’s behalf.

The report, released Tuesday, said the university made mistakes but didn’t target Swartz, 26, who killed himself in his New York apartment on Jan. 11 while facing 35 years in prison, accused of stealing scholarly journal articles from an MIT computer network.

Swartz’s defenders lit up Twitter with claims of a whitewash.

MIT “made a series of mistakes in their actions, and I don’t think they are accepting the mistakes they made,” Robert Swartz said in a telephone interview.

Robert Swartz said MIT could have intervened to ask prosecutors to dismiss the charges against his son, but did not.

“I think that Aaron was treated wrongly by this process, by people who were vindictive and cruel, despite the fact he had been lauded and had received all sorts of awards and his whole goal was to save the world,” Robert Swartz said.

Asked about MIT’s conclusion that the university’s decisions were “reasonable, appropriate and made in good faith,” Robert Swartz said hethinks “that isn’t true.”

MIT said in its report that the university recognizes “the desire for a simple take-away,” but adds: “We can’t offer that. We have not found a silver bullet with which MIT could have simply prevented the tragedy.”

Nonetheless, the report says, “MIT missed an opportunity to demonstrate the leadership that we pride ourselves on.” That opportunity existed because “MIT is respected for world-class work in information technology, for promoting open access to online information, and for dealing wisely with the risks of computer abuse,” the university said.

At Aaron Swartz’s funeral on Jan. 15 at Central Avenue Synagogue in Highland Park, Robert Swartz said he believed his son was killed by the government, and that “MIT betrayed all of its basic principles.”

Charlie Furman, spokesman for Demand Progress, an Internet freedom and civil liberties nonprofit that Aaron Swartz co-founded in 2010, said Tuesday that “the brilliant minds at MIT do not understand that logical legal procedures would have saved Aaron’s life.”

“If the university had said publicly, ‘We don’t want this prosecution to go forward,’ or ‘His access was not unauthorized,’ there would have been no case and Aaron would be alive today,” Furman said.

On Tuesday, Robert Swartz said he hopes some good comes of the tragedy.

“I look forward and hope to see MIT help in making all academic journals available for free, to help change the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act that was used to prosecute my son, and to make structural changes so a tragedy of this sort can never happen again,” he said.

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