In the last years of his life, Swartz turned to political activism. He fought against SOPA, founded several political advocacy websites, and launched the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. He downloaded and made openly available data from the Library of Congress and federal court documents stored in the Public Access to Court Electronic Records database. He filed a Freedom of Information Act request to learn about Bradley Manning. Swartz wanted to continue his activism, to move in powerful political circles. He didn’t think he could do it as a convicted felon.
Swartz had the opportunity to minimize his sentence by pleading guilty on all felony counts, with an estimated six months in prison. MIT’s report revealed U.S. Assistant Attorney Steven Heymann, the federal prosecutor in Swartz’s case, believed that Swartz had “systematically revictimized” the university and its administrators by refusing the plea and involving them in the case. Additionally, Heymann called the criticism surrounding MIT’s behavior towards Swartz akin to “attacking a rape victim based on sleeping with other men.”
Before his death, Swartz wrote in an online manifesto,
MIT President L. Rafael Reif wrote,“I am confident that MIT’s decisions were reasonable, appropriate, and made in good faith.”Announcing the report, MIT President L. Rafael Reif wrote,“I am confident that MIT’s decisions were reasonable, appropriate, and made in good faith.” Hal Abelson, a professor of computer science and engineering at MIT, lead the report after he was chosen by Reif as “someone who understands the issues and institution.” Abelson concluded that MIT’s actions were “within the law,” but that MIT missed an opportunity to lead the discussion on the issues. “The reason he could do what he did is that we had open access,” Abelson told The Boston Globe, “For those of us at MIT who are very much in favor of open access, it’s ironic and sad that the consequences of his actions was to actually harm open access at MIT.”
“Information is power…Those with access to these resources—students, librarians, scientists—you have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not—indeed, morally, you cannot—keep this privilege for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with the world.”
Aaron Swartz hung himself in his Crown Heights apartment on January 11th, 2013. After Tuesday’s findings, his father Robert Swartz applauded MIT for its “commitment to self-examination” and hoped the university would consider including him in further discussions of the issues surrounding his son’s case.