Surveillance footage that busted Aaron Swartz released

The video from an MIT wiring closet prompted the federal probe that led to the technologist's demise

Topics: MIT, FOIA, Video, Wired, Aaron Swartz, Surveillance, jstor, cfaa, ,

Surveillance footage that busted Aaron Swartz releasedAaron Swartz (Credit: Wikipedia)

Aaron Swartz, the young technologist who committed suicide while facing hefty federal charges for downloading millions of academic articles from JSTOR, was undone through surveillance footage.

A video that caught Swartz with a hard drive in an MIT wiring closet — from where he accessed the vast article trove — prompted a federal probe, which eventually led to the open-data activist facing charges under the dangerously broad Computer Fraud and Abuses Act (despite the fact that the purported victim, JSTOR, did not want to bring charges).

Wired’s Kevin Poulsen reported on Thursday that he has obtained the footage via FOIA (it can be viewed here on Wired’s site). In the brief but fateful video, Swartz is seen entering the wiring closet, removing a small hard drive from his backpack, kneeling down out of shot and then hurriedly leaving a few minutes later. As Poulsen notes:

The video was made in January 2011, near the end of a months-long cat-and-mouse game between MIT personnel and a then-unknown user who’d been downloading millions of articles from a service called JSTOR, which provides searchable copies of academic journals online…

On January 4, 2011, MIT technicians traced the downloads to the closet in the basement of Building 16. There they found an Acer laptop wired to MIT’s network and concealed under a box. They called the police, and after some discussion decided to leave the laptop in place so as not to alert the perpetrator. MIT technicians planted the IP camera to see who came back for it.

Those few minutes of glitchy video — capturing Swartz swapping hard drives on his stashed laptop — would prove fateful. After a second visit to the closet two days later, Swartz was arrested nearby and identified.

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 10
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Romance novels need a canon

    "Bet Me" by Jennifer Crusie

    A contemporary romantic comedy set to Elvis Costello and lots of luxurious and sinful sugary treats.   Read the whole essay.

    Romance novels need a canon

    "Welcome to Temptation" by Jennifer Crusie

    Another of Crusie's romantic comedies, this one in the shadow of an ostentatiously phallic water tower.   Read the whole essay.

    Romance novels need a canon

    "A Gentleman Undone" by Cecilia Grant

    A Regency romance with beautifully broken people and some seriously steamy sex.   Read the whole essay.

    Romance novels need a canon

    "Black Silk" by Judith Ivory

    A beautifully written, exquisitely slow-building Regency; the plot is centered on a box with some very curious images, as Edward Gorey might say.   Read the whole essay.

    Romance novels need a canon

    "For My Lady's Heart" by Laura Kinsale

    A medieval romance, the period piece functions much like a dystopia, with the courageous lady and noble knight struggling to find happiness despite the authoritarian society.   Read the whole essay.

    Romance novels need a canon

    "Sweet Disorder" by Rose Lerner

    A Regency that uses the limitations on women of the time to good effect; the main character is poor and needs to sell her vote ... or rather her husband's vote. But to sell it, she needs to get a husband first ...   Read the whole essay.

    Romance novels need a canon

    "Frenemy of the People" by Nora Olsen

    Clarissa is sitting at an awards banquet when she suddenly realizes she likes pictures of Kimye for both Kim and Kanye and she is totally bi. So she texts to all her friends, "I am totally bi!" Drama and romance ensue ... but not quite with who she expects. I got an advanced copy of this YA lesbian romance, and I’d urge folks to reserve a copy; it’s a delight.   Read the whole essay.

    Romance novels need a canon

    "The Slightest Provocation" by Pam Rosenthal

    A separated couple works to reconcile against a background of political intrigue; sort of "His Gal Friday" as a spy novel set in the Regency.   Read the whole essay.

    Romance novels need a canon

    "Again" by Kathleen Gilles Seidel

    Set among workers on a period soap opera, it manages to be contemporary and historical both at the same time.   Read the whole essay.

  • Recent Slide Shows


Loading Comments...