July 30, 2013, 1:57 PM — The Massachusetts Institute of Technology never sought a federal prosecution of Aaron Swartz, the programming prodigy who was charged with stealing millions of academic papers from an online archive at MIT, according to a report by the institute.
Swartz committed suicide in January while facing federal charges including computer intrusion, wire fraud and data theft, which could have led to a sentence of 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The case has led to protests against what critics called an overly aggressive prosecution and calls by lawmakers to change the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder later said the government never intended for Swartz to serve more than a few months in prison.
The report, which was requested by MIT President Rafael Reif in January, was issued on Tuesday, the institute said in a press release. It cleared MIT of any wrongdoing but raised questions about whether the institute should have been more actively involved. The report was prepared after conversations with about 50 people, including faculty, students, alumni, staff, police officers and lawyers, and Swartz's family and friends.
MIT remained neutral on Swartz's case from the time of his arrest in January 2011 until his death in January 2013, never making public statements about the merits of the case or whether it should proceed, the report found. The institute didn't request that federal agents get involved in the investigation or federal charges be brought against him. The institute didn't try to influence the prosecutor's decisions on the case, other than saying the government shouldn't assume that MIT wanted Swartz to go to jail, it said.
Swartz was charged with downloading more than 4 million academic articles from the subscription-based JSTOR service, allegedly for the purpose of making them available for free. Critics, including some prominent Internet scholars, said the federal charges against him and the possible maximum penalty they could have carried were out of proportion to the crime.