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News Link • Criminal Justice System

Rogue Academic Downloader Busted by MIT Webcam Stakeout

• Ryan Singel via

Hacker and activist Aaron Swartz faces federal hacking prosecution for allegedly downloading millions of academic documents via MIT’s guest network, using a laptop hidden in a networking closet.

Swartz, 24, faces 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine under the indictment, announced last week, raising questions about his intentions, the vagueness of anti-hacking statutes and copyright as it applies to academic work.

But the indictment (embedded below) also left one other question unresolved: How did Swartz get caught?

The answer, it turns out, involves a webcam stakeout, the Secret Service and a campus-wide manhunt for a slender guy with a backpack riding a bike on MIT’s campus.

Swartz, the founder of the activist group Demand Progress, was arrested by the MIT police on Jan. 6, charged with breaking and entering for allegedly entering a “restricted” networking room. The alleged purpose was to hide a laptop that was using a guest account on the MIT network to download millions of academic papers from JSTOR, an academic journal service that MIT pays for. However, MIT, which is open 24 hours a day to students and guests, allows students and guests to use the service and its network for free.

That arrest was first reported by Politico’s Josh Gerstein.

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