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MIT Pledges Probe Of Involvement In Aaron Swartz Case, Establishes Website To Field Questions

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MIT AARON SWARTZ PROBE
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The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is conducting a review of its involvement in the case of Aaron Swartz, the internet pioneer who committed suicide earlier this month.

Swartz killed himself two years to the day after he was arrested on felony counts relating to retrieving more than 4 million academic journal articles from the JSTOR database through MIT's network without authorization, CNET reports. Swartz's father told The Huffington Post that MIT officials declined to support a plea deal which could've allowed his son to avoid prison because they said the university held "differing opinions" over Swartz's alleged actions.

Hal Abelson, Ph.D, a professor of computer science and founding director of Creative Commons, has been tasked by MIT president L. Rafael Reif to lead the investigation, going back to fall 2010 when the library system learned that large numbers of articles were being downloaded from JSTOR.

"This matter is urgently serious for MIT," Abelson wrote in an open letter to the MIT community, printed by the student newspaper The Tech. "The world respects us not only for our scholarship and our science, but because we are an institution whose actions are and always have been guided by the highest ideals and the most thoughtful judgment. Our commitment to those ideals is now coming into question. At last Saturday’s memorial, Aaron’s partner Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman described his mental state: 'He faced indifference from MIT, an institution that could have protected him with a single public statement and refused to do so, in defiance of all of its own most cherished principles.'"

The Wall Street Journal reports the results of Abelson's review will be released "in a few weeks."

Abelson pledged this would not be a "witch hunt" seeking people to blame, but said it will take a critical look at the institution.

"Are we becoming a place that, in the words of legal scholar James Boyle, 'confuses order with rectitude'? That’s a question not only for MIT’s leadership, but something we will all need to ask of one another — and of ourselves," Abelson said.

Abelson said those questions about the culture and attitude will be considered later in the spring and for now, they will just try to figure out what exactly happened.

MIT is welcoming suggestions from the university's community for their investigation. They've established a publicly viewable website where only MIT students and faculty can contribute questions they'd like answered. MIT community members can then vote on the questions they'd like answered the most, and as well as add comments.

An online petition by the student-led MIT Society for Open Science calling on the school to apologize for its role in Swartz's case currently has more than 700 signatures.

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