U.S. District Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton ordered yesterday that some confidentiality restrictions be removed from evidence MIT had produced for the case against Aaron Swartz, which was dropped after his suicide in January. This is the first order since Swartz’s lawyers’ motion on March 15, which would have made information collected for the trial public. The judge agreed with MIT’s and JSTOR’s March 29 responses, asking that information including the names of employees be redacted.
Prior to the order, Swartz’s lawyers, JSTOR, MIT, and the federal government all agreed that some information contained in the court documents could be made public, which Gordon upheld. Elliot R. Peters, Swartz’s laywer, also asked for identifying and network information to be disclosed, but that request was denied. The order also says that Swartz’s estate must allow MIT and JSTOR to review and redact all documents before making them public. Also, all parties must submit a joint proposed order — essentially an agreement between themselves — consistent with yesterday’s opinion by May 27.
There has been much public and media interest in the case since Swartz’s death. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform also began an investigation into the case in late January and has requested certain documents from the case.
The order says that since MIT and JSTOR are “cooperating with the Congressional inquiry into Mr. Swartz’s prosecution suggests that, to the extent such redactions interfere with the comprehension of any documents, each can address those problems with the House Committee on a case-by-case basis.”
Swartz’s lawyers filed a motion on March 15 requesting that evidence used in Swartz’s trial be made publicly accessible, including many MIT documents. The motion requested in particular that the court not redact the names and official titles of all law enforcement personnel and employees of MIT and JSTOR who appear in the evidence.
But in a letter to the MIT community on March 20, President L. Rafael Reif disagreed with the extent of information Swartz’s lawyers wanted to release. MIT, JSTOR, and Swartz’s lawyers reached agreement on some terms of lifting the protective order, such as redacting social security numbers and birthdates, but not on the details of redactions. The government, JSTOR and Reif all sought to redact all names and identifying information of law enforcement and MIT and JSTOR personnel since “revealing the names of any of these individuals, even to Congress, might lead to some form of retaliation.” Reif’s letter also said that details about MIT’s network vulnerabilities would also be redacted.
Yesterday’s order noted incidents that supported MIT’s request to redact certain names, citing the MIT gunman hoax on February 23, evidence of “incidents of harassment and retaliation” from MIT and JSTOR, and “threatening communication” received by a relative of a prosecuting attorney.
According to Reif’s letter in March, MIT planned to release MIT-related documents at the same time as releasing Hal Abelson PhD ’73’s report. It is possible that Swartz’s lawyers or JSTOR will release those documents before the Abelson report is ready — yesterday’s order did not say whether MIT would be the first to release the documents.
After Swartz’s death, Abelson was tasked to analyze MIT’s involvement in the case. In a letter to the community on January 22, Abelson wrote that he hoped the report could be ready “in a few weeks.” In a letter to The Tech in this issue, Abelson wrote “Given the visibility of the Aaron Swartz case and the controversies surrounding it, it’s important to get the report right and to take the necessary time and effort to do that. My plan is to give my report to President Reif this summer.”