I am asking is that MIT fix its approach and stand behind the people who make its community what it is, and as part of that, commit to providing support in the inevitable future situations when they occur.
I propose that MIT make a shift in its stance. MIT must find a way to value the culture that its name stands for. The current take-least-action policies of the General Counsel’s Office need to be weighed as costs also, accounting for the long-term impact that it has. Innovation is not (should not be) solely measured in terms of lucrative filed IP. Upstream from that, is an even more precious environment for experimenting. Legally protecting members of the MIT community is fundamental to protecting MIT the institution long-term. MIT must be aware of what it stands to lose if it does not.
I spent many glorious years at MIT as an enrolled student, and even before that a few years as a Boston-area high schooller. MIT students and faculty have an amazing open culture that is inclusive and inviting to community geeks, nerds and fans. MIT as an institution benefits from that vibrate hacker scene whether it is climbing on roofs, building ridiculous go-karts, constructing DIY rollercoasters or pushing the boundaries of computer code. MIT will use these self-same creative endeavors to get press, attract new students & faculty, and entertain alumni
But, that same creative hacker spirit is thrown under a bus in a moment, as it was with Swartz & Simpson (and many others!) The crimes both were accused of were of such low seriousness that basic legal and social support would have cost very little and shown great character.
MIT administration – please: step it up, protect your own students, and don’t pass judgement on hacker crimes. Otherwise you may end up with the same bland & mediocre culture of CalTech (zing!).
I watched Simpson tell her story earlier this year at Freedom to Innovate, a conference at MIT’s Media Lab, co-sponsored by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and was powerfully moved by her account of how the MIT administration’s mishandling of the affair had come close to ruining her life, and did push her to drop out of university.
The event was occasioned by the announcement of the creation of a new law clinic that would reverse MIT’s deplorable record for hanging out scholars and researchers to dry (part of the conference also dealt with MIT’s enthusiastic complicity in the legal case against Aaron Swartz). Simpson was cautiously optimistic — though she’ll likely never get an undergrad degree (much less finish the degree she started at MIT), she wanted there to be at least one positive outcome from her case: reform of MIT’s propensity to side with authorities against its own students’ research projects.
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