The president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology released a statement on Sunday about the suicide of internet activist Aaron Swartz, announcing that the university will conduct an internal investigation into the school's role in Swartz's death.
"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," MIT president L. Rafael Reif said in the statement. "Now is a time for everyone involved to reflect on their actions, and that includes all of us at MIT."
Swartz, who was found dead on Friday, was charged in July 2011 with data theft after downloading over 4 million articles from JSTOR, the online academic journal database, while using the MIT computer network. Swartz, charged with 13 felony counts, faced decades in prison and $4 million in fines. His federal trial was set to begin next month.
The Huffington Post's Zach Carter, Ryan Grim, and Ryan J. Reilly reported Saturday:
All 13 counts against Swartz rest on the idea that he stole or damaged JSTOR and MIT property.
The final count alleges that Swartz caused "reckless damage" to computer systems owned by JSTOR and MIT. While both JSTOR and MIT suffered interrupted service to JSTOR's archive as a result of Swartz's downloads, there was no permanent technical dysfunction.
Although JSTOR opposed prosecuting Swartz, MIT did not speak out against the prosecution's case as aggressively as JSTOR did. Swartz's family criticized the school on Saturday for failing to intervene.
"Unlike JSTOR, MIT refused to stand up for Aaron and its own community’s most cherished principles," the statement reads.
Reif has appointed computer science professor Hal Abelson to spearhead the internal probe. Business Insider points out that Abelson has been involved with several groups promoting Internet rights causes that Swartz promoted, including Creative Commons.
Read Reif's full letter, as provided by The Verge:
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,
L. Rafael Reif
NEED HELP? IN THE U.S., CALL 1-800-273-8255 FOR THE NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE .
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