What are MIT’s obligations to members of our extended community?

What are MIT’s obligations to members of our extended community?


In my view, this incident

In my view, this incident should make it clear that MIT's position at the vanguard is, at this point in time, significantly influenced by a broader "Internet community" which displays strong opinions with unprecedented cohesiveness. This community expects the institutions which it respects to act with a similarly coherent volition. I think what you have done with this website is, in and of itself, a significant step in that direction. It may be far-fetched, but when it comes to a decision in the future where MIT must decide whether to consider someone "one of its own" without any formal affiliation, I think a process like this for quickly gathering opinions from the somewhat more core "community" would not be unreasonable.

Suppose that an unidentified

Suppose that an unidentified person began using unlocked Athena stations to print thousands of pages of documents, circumventing page quotae, and putting a strain on certain heavily used MIT printers. Would MIT Police call in federal authorities?

Aaron Swartz's actions were the electronic analogue of this scenario. MIT has an obligation to members of its extended community --- and to all people --- to not presume that they are dangerous criminals simply because they are causing trouble.

I do not like the idea of

I do not like the idea of belonging to a community iff we received some admission letter: actions speak better than some GRE / SAT / etc. tests. Looking at his actions, Aaron epitomizes MIT core values and should thereby be considered as one of its members. (I'm not answering the question directly but I think it is related)

Absolutely. It is in MIT's

Absolutely. It is in MIT's heritage to include and promote brilliance and ingenuity, wherever it may come from. It started as early as the 1960s, when the 12 year-old Peter Deutsch and other hackers came to the MIT and hacked on the TX-0. I believe to be at the forefront of innovation and technology, the Institute must continue to support the hacker ethic, to take care of its own. Many of the people who come to MIT came out of a passion to make and to improve, not because a letter told them they could. The Institute should try and handle as much of its own issues as possible, only turning to law enforcement as a last resort.

This is a special place, with a community and personality that isn't black and white, that the rest of the world doesn't necessarily understand. And it is in this special place that we research and create brilliant, wonderful things. By forsaking members of the community, MIT is losing the opportunity to foster that creative spirt.

Not blindly turning all

Not blindly turning all information about them on our network to the FBI and NSA. Force them to get the Supreme Court to make you comply, or you are being naive in assuming their good faith.

Or do you think it would be ok for any old 25 year old who learns how to auto-click pictures of Einstein to be sent to jail for the rest of his life? Civil Disobedience is a responsibility OF MIT to the community, when such awful consequences of uncivil obedience are found.

MIT owes them the truth.

MIT owes them the truth.

The Swartz report makes clear (footnote 34, page 63) that MIT did not tell the truth to Aaron Swartz's father. ("During this conversation, the OGC attorney said that MIT had not turned over anything to the government without a subpoena. In fact, this was not true,..."). MIT may well have been entitled to turn this stuff over to prosecutors, but it wasn't entitled to lie to Aaron Swartz's father.

When did MIT realize it had misspoken, and when did it correct the record? Has the Institute apologized to Mr. Swartz for this misstatement?

The Swartz documents also make clear that MIT's outside counsel did not observe a practice of "neutrality" between the prosecution and defense. On page 2,597 of the "MIT communications with the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney's Office," MIT's outside counsel writes to the federal prosecutor: "Steve and Scott, Excellent work on the responses to Swartz's motions. Interesting that the baton of Swartz's defense lawyer has again been passed. Regards..."

The documents also make clear that the prosecution enjoyed routine telephone access to MIT IS&T personnel without needing to go through MIT attorneys, whereas the defense had to work hard to schedule limited interviews with the same personnel.

Again, MIT (as the victim) may well be entitled to cooperate more with the prosecution than the defense. But it can't do this and represent that it is observing a policy of neutrality at the same time.

@tcoffee, your analogy is

@tcoffee, your analogy is reasonable but inconsistent with your argument. You can't question the severity of response with a simple analogy. However, that is really a whole other topic of when to report to authorities.

In any case, the subjective issue is what is our extended community and what obligations might we consider ourselves under.

I offer that our obligations are dependent on this suggested fairly standard definition of extended community membership: individuals who are not direct members who are in keeping with the spirit of the community and provide respectful participation. In such a case then a community's obligation may be to treat them as any direct member. Otherwise, they deserve no special dispensation or treatment from any community. (Note: I'm not arguing for conformation or like minded thinking. Respect does not require that)

I opine that respect was missing from Aaron's actions, as he decided to repeatedly take his possibly (and seemingly) liable actions onto MIT's virtual and physical property without our understanding or consent. Acting from within Harvard given his attendance at the _Center for Ethics_ would have been far more appropriate and possibly excusable if issues actually did arise in that scenario.

In my point of view, Aaron´s

In my point of view, Aaron´s attitude is against what I learned at MIT in many oportunities. One I did remember deeply and I will allways remeber was the following: Before going to MIT to get a MSc in Nuclear Engineering I did have the equivalent of an Ms in Phisics, therofe, being at MIT I realized that I will not need to take all the courses "required" because my background in Phisics was large enough. Therefore I went to talk to my tutor, asking him to take an exam in order to avoid this obligation and it work. Then I realized that I was able to pass other courses, so I went to talk again with my tutor, but at that time he asked: ¿What you really want? and the he added, no mater how smart you are or well prepared, no body can receive an MIT grade if he or she don´t spend at least ONE YEAR STUDING here, because you might aquire THE MIT SPIRIT.

This has been a guiding light in my life and a great lesson. I think Aaron demonstrate he must not be part of MIT community.

One must not be affraid to state the principles of an institution, nation, company or personaly. If somebody dont like them, he might find other place, but not MIT.

I have the feeling we are entering in a world where nobody want to say yes or no, everybody want to say perhaps... but, this is too bad because this way you avoid compromise, you avoid resposibilities, you avoid truth, you loose the spirit.

Careful thought needs to be

Careful thought needs to be given to the definition of "extended community" and within that community distinctions are appropriate. For example, as an Alumnus I am not entitled to free use of MIT's electricity or water. Yet other elements are, and should be accessible to a very wide community, viz. Open Courseware. It's a matter of costs and benefits within legal norms. This is not a new issue; public lectures have long been part of the fabric of academe.

The report cites the

The report cites the following as factors in MIT's silence as the Aaron Swartz case unfolded:

"There seemed to be little interest in the case from students or faculty or the larger MIT community."

"While individual members of the MIT community are encouraged to express their opinions on controversial topics, MIT itself as an institution only rarely takes a position in a lawsuit to which it is not a party. 'For MIT to express a single opinion on behalf of the entire institution, the subject must have significant bearing on MIT’s institutional interests, have been subject to discussion and debate within the MIT community over time, and have inspired the personal engagement of MIT’s senior leadership . . . . U.S. v. Swartz did not fit that description.'"

The report cites other considerations which counseled neutrality in the legal proceedings, but I think it's worth reflecting on the role our own silence played in this case.

The intellectual community of

The intellectual community of which MIT is a part is best served by treating all people who wish to learn as similar as possible, and this is with great -- overwhelming -- kindness and respect. MIT should treat its guests, as well as its students, with great honor. This intellectual community includes strong and political disagreements about many things including patents, copyright, paywalls, aspects of science including climate change and the religious aspects of start of life and end of life, etc. This is not all pattycake. This is literally life and death, not just of the individual, but of all humanity. MIT needs to better foster the aspect of intellectual safety which is necessary so that anyone can learn -- and can be free to disagree. MIT needs to become better competent at handling this. This was not accomplished by going to the police, who respond most strongly to protect the notion of "intellectual property rights" and who do not understand nor respect the necessary countervailing "intellectual freedoms." Let's be honest, what professor hasn't taken wink-wink nod-nod actions in violation of copyright in order to allow his/her students access to information they need in order to be able to learn and grow?

@alian: Well said. Put

@alian: Well said. Put differently, MIT-community membership ought to be contingent on heeding or at least aspiring to Patrick Winston's creed: "In the MIT tribe, we don't screw each other." (No implication of Winston's views on Swartz.) When he chose MIT as the platform for his downloads, Swartz started a process that has consumed tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in MIT resources, occupied the time of faculty and staff from MIT Libraries and IS&T up to the President's office, made MIT the target of damaging cyber attacks, and led to tighter access policies from both the Libraries and IS&T. Swartz couldn't have predicted all of that, but he surely knew that he was bringing trouble to MIT's door. When he decided to exploit our openness anyway, he screwed us. For that reason, he did not deserve special treatment from MIT.

MIT's obligation depends on

MIT's obligation depends on the situation. Swartz was a brilliant software engineer who was at the forefront of internet technology and who shared many of MIT's values in an open and free online community. It was well known that he wore a white hat. MIT should have handled the JSTOR hack as an internal matter, disposing of it in much the same way as JSTOR itself did. But if a member of the extended MIT community used MIT computers to post child pornography, or to steal social security numbers of MIT employees, MIT would have little obligation to protect that person.

As buratti said, It should be

As buratti said, It should be on a case-by-case basis. There is no default obligation.
It shouldn't be a question of the extent to which a member of the extended community aligns himself or herself with MIT's culture. That's dangerous, because it relies on the administrators to make that call.
It should be up to the community to defend its extended members, and it should be up to the trustees to listen. In Swartz's case, there was too little defense and/or not enough listening.

Define extended. MIT only has

Define extended. MIT only has an obligation to assist students, faculty and staff engaged in MIT business. The MIT "extended" community can aid itself by means of publication of thoughtful analysis of current systems and laws, and sharing that analysis with representatives in state and federal government.

The primary responsibility of

The primary responsibility of MIT is it's closed community and private, internal affairs. The reputation and success of MIT is built upon the backs of its faculty and students. By extending its doors open to an extended community, MIT is voluntarily granting a privilege to new members with no expectations of institutional gain. What is expected, however, is that extended members be respectful of the resources that are freely open to them in deference to the matriculating students, donating alumni, and grant-writing faculty. It is important that this is understood since a large majority of universities dedicate their full attention to the closed community; MIT is unique in its sharing of resources.

Now, when one of those extended members decides to inconspicuously hide a laptop plugged into MIT's network, it is MIT's objective to ensure the safety of its community; that is, to act in the most efficient, careful way possible. I believe authorities acted accordingly, carefully and diligently, to ensure the community would remain safe. Furthermore, MIT remained true to this primary responsibility and focused its attention on its mission statement (http://web.mit.edu/facts/mission.html), rather then on a legal case. In fact, MIT acted rather forgivingly by remaining neutral to the defendant and did not ask for compensation for damages.

As a graduate research student, it pains me to see that our generous policy of open community has been taken advantage of, and furthermore chastised for its decision to not defend the very person that took advantage of MIT. It is my opinion that the extended community should be grateful that MIT did not press the issue of having their relations with JSTOR damaged and that MIT did not request any sort of compensation. I am proud to see that MIT decided to prioritize its goals and focus its efforts on institutional matters other then these legal matters.

MIT's primary obligation is to those members of its closed community, who have professional stake in their efforts to advance society, not extended members who act as though their actions are subject to set of responsibilities lenient in comparison to the professional community. Anything offered to the extended community is a volunteered sharing of resources, and should be treated as a unique benefit to the extended community rather than a liability to MIT.

Basic question: under the

Basic question: under the laws of the Commonweath of Massachusetts or the United States, did he commit a criminal act? It appears he did. Theft is theft. Was it at the level the prosecutor attempted to charge,


Is MIT responsible for an idiot grandstanding lawyer.


Last time I was on campus for a reunion, I was told I didn't have access to a terminal, and would have to pay for using the library. Why should this guy have had the right to take without compensation?

It's a shame he was not tough enough to handle the pressure from that fathead government hack, but that is not the responsibility of the school.

I am adding this comment on

I am adding this comment on behalf of an anonymous commenter within the Media Lab who did not want to be identified:

"academic honesty, which is not upheld in the current report"