And it’s not like MIT has been shy about fighting legal battles—when it wants to. While remaining studiously neutral in Swartz’s case, “MIT decided that it would not be fully neutral with regard to defending anticipated possible attacks on MIT’s employees or the Institute’s integrity,” the report says. Mostly, that seems to mean that the school was willing to fight on the same side as the prosecutors to keep the case from going to trial. And the school has continued to aggressively defend itself: It intervened, for instance, in a FOIA case in which a Wired journalist is fighting for access to records about Swartz’s prosecution. Citing the negative attention the school has received since Swartz’s death—including, the school says, three attacks on its servers—MIT’s lawyers have argued that the school should have the chance to review these documents before they’re made public and redact information that would threaten “the safety of its employees and the security of its networks.”
In Swartz’s case, MIT didn’t want to fight on his behalf. “MIT felt no sense of obligation toward someone who had abused the open access privileges it had provided for the convenience of guests, even if that abuse was carried out in the name of open access,” the report says. In other words, MIT’s leaders (and its lawyers) didn’t believe that Swartz was exemplifying the spirit of the school or acting in line with its values. The administration saw him as someone who had violated the rules. However passionate Swartz was about values that others might see as MIT values—however much hacker culture has rallied behind him—he didn’t behave prudently. And to MIT’s administration, that was what mattered more.
Disclosure: CJR has received funding from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to cover intellectual-property issues, but the organization has no influence on the content.