Society

MIT Surveillance Footage That Led To Aaron Swartz Arrest Released (Video)

| by Khier Casino

Aaron Swartz, the programmer and activist who committed suicide while facing federal charges after hacking into JSTOR and downloading millions of academic articles, was caught on camera in an electrical closet at MIT in January 2011.

RT.com reported the eleven minutes of surveillance video, which recently surfaced because of a Freedom of Information Act request, was used to identify, then arrest and indict Swartz.

The footage shows then-24-year-old Swartz – who helped code the social news site Reddit a few years earlier – switching a new hard drive into a hidden laptop that he set up to the school’s network to access academic articles from the JSTOR database and eventually release it to the public.

According to The Wire, the video helped authorities catch Swartz days later after visiting the closet for a second time. He was charged with wire fraud and theft. If Swartz had been convicted, he could have faced 35 years in prison and fined $1 million. Charges were dropped when Swartz hung himself in his New York City apartment earlier this year. He was 26 years old.

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The video went viral when a friend of Swartz and Wired magazine reporter, Kevin Poulsen, published it online Wednesday, including a 148-page document that the government has handed over to a federal judge this summer.

The vast file trove consists of communication between the Secret Service and Justice Department officials, who collected more information on the case following Swartz’s suicide on Jan. 11, after the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, lead by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), called for a briefing on their personal roles in the investigation.

“Had he been a journalist and taken that same material that he gained from MIT, he would have been praised for it,” Issa told The Huffington Post at the time of Swartz’s alleged crime. “It would have been like the Pentagon Papers.”

Poulsen got a hold of another document dated only hours after Swartz’s death, in which a Secret Service agent warned a colleague, “Given that he is well known through his association with Reddit and Wired magazine, I would not be surprised if there were to be media inquiries / coverage regarding his death.”

At his son’s funeral in Highland Park, Ill., last January, Robert Swartz said, “Aaron did not commit suicide but was killed by the government. Someone who made the world a better place was pushed to his death by the government.”

Swartz was charged under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which was named “Aaron’s Law” after his death. An effort to reform the bill has been proposed in Washington by Congress members.

Watch the surveillance footage below: