UPDATED: EFF: MIT was not "neutral" on Aaron Swartz; actively assisted in his prosecution

The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Legal Director Cindy Cohn writes in detail about the MIT report on its involvement in Aaron Swartz's prosecution. She criticizes MIT's claim to neutrality in the matter, showing the way that the university went to great, voluntary lengths to help the government prosecute Aaron, and eventually siding with the government in motions to keep the evidence that it turned over to the prosecutor admissable. Cohn shows that MIT's likeliest motivation for this was saving face. Ultimately, Cohn says, "MIT's actions in helping the government prosecute Aaron are shameful, and betray the institution’s commitment to technologists."

Update: Cohn wrote in to add, "The prosecution turned on whether Aaron's access to JSTOR via the MIT network was 'unauthorized' and MIT had tremendous power over which way that decision went in the case. The report acknowledges this but simply repeats MIT's assertion that it didn't actually realize it without criticism or noting how unreasonable (or not believable) this assertion is. The CFAA isn't unknown or unknowable and the folks handling this are in the General Counsel's office. 'Unauthorized access' is the statutory language. And of course MIT's belief that Aaron's access might be unauthorized (as in violation of MIT's policies or maybe JSTOR's) is why they called the police and why he was arrested at their instigation. The idea that after they called the cops they didn't understand what law might have been broken or why their network openness and policies mattered to that determination, such that they never even volunteered the information or asked the prosecution for its theory or more importantly gave information about this to the defense, just isn't believable." Read the rest

MIT report after Aaron Swartz's suicide clears MIT of any wrongdoing

Aaron Swartz. Photo: Reuters.

John Schwartz at the New York Times:

"A long-awaited report released Tuesday by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that the university made mistakes but engaged in no wrongdoing in the case of Aaron Swartz, a renowned programmer and charismatic technology activist who committed suicide in January while facing a federal trial on charges of hacking into the M.I.T. computer network."

In an open letter, MIT's president said the report “makes clear that M.I.T. did not ‘target’ Aaron Swartz, we did not seek federal prosecution, punishment or jail time, and we did not oppose a plea bargain,” and that the university “acted appropriately.” Read the rest

MIT report on Aaron Swartz's prosecution is out, and it's a "whitewash"

MIT's report on its involvement in the prosecution of Aaron Swartz (PDF) has been published. The report does not apportion any blame to the university for Swartz's prosecution, stating the the university operated as a "neutral party."

Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, Aaron's partner, vigorously disputes the report's findings, calling it a whitewash, pointing out that MIT provided significant aid to the federal prosecutors who chased Aaron over downloading technical aritcles (which he was entitled to see) from its network, but refused to supply the same documents to the defense team, who desperately needed them. This makes MIT's claim of "neutrality" ring false.

Further, Larry Lessig has posted some preliminary thoughts on MIT's position, pointing out that it turned on a question of authorized or unauthorized access, and that the report says MIT never told the prosecutors that Aaron's access was "unauthorized," suggesting that the prosecutors knew they had no case.

Read the rest

MIT and Aaron Swartz's Secret Service files: what has MIT got to hide?

Ed Felten comments on the news that MIT has moved to delay the release of the Secret Service files on Aaron Swartz:

It seems unlikely that MIT will find information redactable under FOIA that hasn’t already been redacted by the Secret Service.

But there are two things that MIT’s filing will more likely achieve. First, it will delay the disclosure of facts about MIT’s role in the Swartz investigation. Second, it will help MIT prepare its public-relations response to whatever is in the documents.

Read the rest

MIT blocking release of Aaron Swartz's Secret Service files

My friend Aaron Swartz's suicide, just over six months ago, brought attention to MIT's role in his prosecution over downloading scholarly articles from their network. JSTOR, the service that hosted the files Aaron was accused of downloading, dropped its case against him, and it was widely reported that the only reason the Justice Department was able to go ahead with its threats of decades of time in prison for Aaron was MIT's insistence on pressing the case against him. MIT's administration was so shaken by the negative publicity following Aaron's death that they commissioned professor Hal Abelson (a good guy, in my experience) to investigate the university's role in his prosecution.

Now, though, MIT has blocked a Freedom of Information Act suit by Wired's Kevin Poulsen aimed at forcing the Secret Service to release their files on Aaron. A court recently ordered the Secret Service to stop screwing around and release Aaron's file, but before that could happen, MIT intervened, arguing that if the world could see the files, they would know the names of the MIT employees who insisted that Aaron deserved to go to jail for what amounted to checking too many books out of the library. MIT argues that its employees would potentially face retaliation (though not, presumably, threats of felony prosecutions, million-dollar fines, and decades in prison) if their names were known. Read the rest

MIT Master's Thesis on Denial of Service attacks as a form of political activism

Molly sez, "For the past two years I've been researching activist uses of distributed denial of service actions. I just finished my masters thesis on the subject (for the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT). Guiding this work is the overarching question of how civil disobedience and disruptive activism can be practiced in the current online space. The internet acts as a vital arena of communication, self expression, and interpersonal organizing. When there is a message to convey, words to get out, people to organize, many will turn to the internet as the zone of that activity.

"Online, people sign petitions, investigate stories and rumors, amplify links and videos, donate money, and show their support for causes in a variety of ways. But as familiar and widely accepted activist tools--petitions, fundraisers, mass letter-writing, call-in campaigns and others--find equivalent practices in the online space, is there also room for the tactics of disruption and civil disobedience that are equally familiar from the realm of street marches, occupations, and sit-ins? This thesis grounds activist DDOS historically, focusing on early deployments of the tactic as well as modern instances to trace its development over time, both in theory and in practice.

"Through that examination, as well as tool design and development, participant identity, and state and corporate responses, this thesis presents an account of the development and current state of activist DDOS actions. It ends by presenting an analytical framework for the analysis of activist DDOS actions."

This is a subject I've given some thought to -- after reading the introduction to Molly's thesis, I'm convinced that this is something I need to read in full. Read the rest

Scratch 2.0: programming for kids, now in the browser

The MIT Media Lab's Lifelong Kindergarten Group has shipped version 2.0 of Scratch, the justly famed and much-loved programming language for kids. Scratch makes it easy to create powerful simulations and games, even for small kids (basically, if you can read, you're ready for Scratch). The new version of Scratch runs right in a browser (no downloads or installs required), and is remarkable in its polish and power to excite. The programming environment is embedded in a sharing and shareable community, with millions of Scratch projects ready to be downloaded and remixed. It's just amazing.

With Scratch, you can program your own interactive stories, games, and animations — and share your creations with others in the online community.

Scratch helps young people learn to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively — essential skills for life in the 21st century.

Share with others around the world (via O'Reilly Radar) Read the rest

MIT student raises funds for young Boston bomb victim's family

Catherine sez,

On Monday, the Boston Marathon was bombed. On Monday night I was feeling blessed and thankful to not know anyone directly affected by the bombs. But on Tuesday morning I woke up to an email from my colleague Chris Peterson at the MIT Center for Civic Media. Chris's family are friends with the family who lost their son Martin in the attack. He sent us photos of he and his brothers playing with their children and the reality was all too close. It is devastating. This family will have a long road of healing in front of them that most of us cannot even begin to imagine.

My friends at MIT and I have spent the past couple of days helping Chris build a site to raise money for the Richard family. We are coordinating with St Marks Area Main Street, a non-profit community organization based in Dorchester, MA, where the family lives. The site is made with the support of the family and their spokesperson. 100% of funds raised goes to the family. Please give what you can. It's the very least we can do to come together in solidarity with these innocent people and help them to rebuild their lives in the wake of senseless violence. In the photo on the site Martin is holding a sign he made in school that says "Peace". Let us spread that peace.

The Richard Family Fund (Thanks, Catherine) Read the rest

Kids should learn programming as well as reading and writing

Here's Mitch Resnick of the MIT Media Lab's Lifelong Kindergarten Group (whence the kids' programming language Scratch comes) doing a TedX talk about the role of programming in education.

MIT's got form

Bunnie Huang: "Back when I was a graduate student there, I extracted security keys from the original Microsoft Xbox video game console. I still remember the crushing disappointment of receiving a letter from MIT legal repudiating any association with my work, effectively leaving me on my own to face Microsoft." Read the rest

Petition asking MIT to apologize for pursuing Aaron Swartz; hackerspaces contributing to projects Aaron worked on

Noah Swartz (brother of Aaron) writes, "The MIT society for open science has made a petition asking for an apology from MIT: (we understand that there is an investigation, but the thought process is to put more pressure on the institution) A number of hackerspaces are going to work on projects that Aaron worked on or that are in the spirit of his work. Read the rest

MIT president appoints Hal Abelson to investigate university's role in Aaron Swartz's prosecution

MIT president Rafael Reif sent out a university-wide email yesterday announcing an investigation into the school's involvement in the prosecution of Aaron Swartz. He's appointed MIT professor Hal Abelson, a founding director of Creative Commons, who worked with Aaron, "to lead a thorough analysis of MIT's involvement from the time that we first perceived unusual activity on our network in fall 2010 up to the present" and has pledged to "share the report with the MIT community when I receive it."

Yesterday we received the shocking and terrible news that on Friday in New York, Aaron Swartz, a gifted young man well known and admired by many in the MIT community, took his own life. With this tragedy, his family and his friends suffered an inexpressible loss, and we offer our most profound condolences. Even for those of us who did not know Aaron, the trail of his brief life shines with his brilliant creativity and idealism.

Although Aaron had no formal affiliation with MIT, I am writing to you now because he was beloved by many members of our community and because MIT played a role in the legal struggles that began for him in 2011.

MIT president calls for "thorough analysis" of school's involvement with Swartz Read the rest

Expert witness describes Aaron Swartz's "crimes"

Alex Stamos, a computer security and forensics expert, was one of the expert witnesses in US v Swartz, the vindictive case brought against Aaron Swartz for walking into an unlocked computer closet, and downloading a large number of academic articles from JSTOR, using MIT's network. Stamos has very good perspective on the "crimes" for which Aaron was being hounded by the state:

* At the time of Aaron’s actions, the JSTOR website allowed an unlimited number of downloads by anybody on MIT’s 18.x Class-A network. The JSTOR application lacked even the most basic controls to prevent what they might consider abusive behavior, such as CAPTCHAs triggered on multiple downloads, requiring accounts for bulk downloads, or even the ability to pop a box and warn a repeat downloader.

* Aaron did not “hack” the JSTOR website for all reasonable definitions of “hack”. Aaron wrote a handful of basic python scripts that first discovered the URLs of journal articles and then used curl to request them. Aaron did not use parameter tampering, break a CAPTCHA, or do anything more complicated than call a basic command line tool that downloads a file in the same manner as right-clicking and choosing “Save As” from your favorite browser.

* Aaron did nothing to cover his tracks or hide his activity, as evidenced by his very verbose .bash_history, his uncleared browser history and lack of any encryption of the laptop he used to download these files. Changing one’s MAC address (which the government inaccurately identified as equivalent to a car’s VIN number) or putting a mailinator email address into a captured portal are not crimes.

Read the rest

Self-taught 15-y-o from Sierra Leone is a king-hell maker

This short documentary about a teenager from Sierra Leone who taught himself electronics and got a residence at MIT is inspiring and humbling -- what a kid!

Tinfoil hats actually amplify mind-control beams

A group of MIT students decided to test the performance of different tinfoil beanies to see how various designs (the "classical," "fez" and "centurion") interacted with commonly used industrial radio applications. They found that all three designs actually amplified these mind control rays radio waves, suggesting that the tinfoil hat meme might be a false-flag operation engineered to trick the wily and suspicious into making it easier to beam messages into their skulls.

Among a fringe community of paranoids, aluminum helmets serve as the protective measure of choice against invasive radio signals. We investigate the efficacy of three aluminum helmet designs on a sample group of four individuals. Using a $250,000 network analyser, we find that although on average all helmets attenuate invasive radio frequencies in either directions (either emanating from an outside source, or emanating from the cranium of the subject), certain frequencies are in fact greatly amplified. These amplified frequencies coincide with radio bands reserved for government use according to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). Statistical evidence suggests the use of helmets may in fact enhance the government's invasive abilities. We speculate that the government may in fact have started the helmet craze for this reason.

... We evaluated the performance of three different helmet designs, commonly referred to as the Classical, the Fez, and the Centurion. These designs are portrayed in Figure 1. The helmets were made of Reynolds aluminium foil. As per best practices, all three designs were constructed with the double layering technique described elsewhere [2].

Read the rest

Folding electric car inches toward the market

Some concrete dates and prices for the Hiroko Fold, a folding electric car that can park in teeny places and turn with "zero radius." The following is from PSFK's Yi Chen:

Researchers from MIT’s Changing Places group and DENOKINN have developed a convenient and eco-friendly car to commute around the city. The Hiriko Fold is an ultra-compact vehicle that can fold upright to fit into tight parking spaces. We first wrote about Hiriko Fold earlier this year, and now it’s been confirmed that the electric car is expected go on sale in 2013 for around $16,000.

The car is able to carry two passengers and is capable of traveling up to 75 miles between charges. The vehicle would also be equipped with zero-turn radius wheels that allow it to move sideways, making parallel parking a less frustrating maneuver. Some of the Hiriko Fold models are on trial in European cities for testing, and the group believes that the compact car would be popular in cities like Berlin, San Francisco, and Barcelona.

MIT’s Tiny Foldable Electric Car Will Retail For $16,000 (via Engadget) Read the rest

MIT issues certificates in piracy

Good news! You can now earn a certification in piracy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. One of the first crop of official pirates, Jacob Hurwitz, showed up for his interview with the Boston Globe "wearing a pirate hat, eye patch, earring, knickers, and a stuffed parrot on his shoulder." So you know it's official. (Via Kevin Zelnio) Read the rest

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