The Massachusetts Institute of Technology will be investigating its own involvement in events leading to the suicide last Friday of the talented programmer and Internet activist, Aaron Swartz.
“It pains me to think that MIT played any role in the series of events that have ended in tragedy,” said L. Rafael Reif, president of MIT in a statement released today which stopped short of an apology. ”I have asked that this analysis describe the options MIT had and the decisions MIT made, in order to understand and learn from the actions MIT took.”
The 26-year-old Swartz hanged himself last Friday night in his apartment in Brooklyn, New York. At the age of 14, Swartz helped create the first version of RSS (Rich Site Summary) a format for delivering regularly changing Web content. RSS is now widely used to gather updates from blogs, news, as well as audio and video content on the Internet.
Swartz also co-founded Demand Progress, a group that campaigns against Internet censorship and Reddit.com, a social news Web site which was later sold to Conde Nast.
His death came months before he is to stand trial on 13 counts of felony related to his alleged 2011 illegal downloading through the MIT network of nearly five million academic journals from JSTOR, a nonprofit publisher of journals.
The charges are not for copyright violation but for unauthorized use of the MIT network. JSTOR had declined to press charges. The charges filed against Swartz would have carried a maximum sentence of 35 years in jail and up to USS1 million in fines.
In a statement on Saturday, Swartz’s family blamed the prosecutor’s office and MIT for the programmer’s death.
“Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy,” the family said. “It is a product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and presecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s Office and at MIT contributed to his death.”