The 88-day process to make evidence in the Swartz trial public has begun. The government, Aaron Swartz’s lawyers, MIT, and JSTOR submitted a plan last Friday to release certain documents, but identifying information about MIT employees will be scrubbed, among other redactions. The plan was endorsed on Monday by U.S. District Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton.
Swartz’s lawyers will have to turn over the evidence they collected for the trial to the Attorney’s office by Monday, and the other parties will have 60 days to make the appropriate redactions. Swartz’s lawyers will have 14 days to review the redactions, and all parties will have seven days to settle any disputes. If there are no extensions, the entire process will take a total of 88 days.
Swartz was federally indicted in July 2011 for downloading 4.8 million documents from JSTOR using MIT’s resources (by leaving a laptop in a wiring closet in the basement of building 16 that was downloading articles using MIT’s network) with the intent of distributing them. Swartz was also indicted by the Middlesex Superior Court in November 2011, but those charges were dropped in March 2012. In September 2012, the federal indictment was revised from four counts to thirteen counts against Swartz. Swartz pleaded not guilty to all 13 counts.
Because of the sensitive nature of the case, the court placed the documents collected in preparation for the trial under a protective order in November 2011, meaning that those documents would not be made available to the public.
The case was dismissed after Swartz’s suicide on Jan. 11. After Swartz’s suicide, media attention and interest in the case heightened, particularly the question of whether the prosecution overstepped in their role. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform began an investigation into the case in January. Various media organizations, activists, and Congress requested certain documents that were under the protective order.
Swartz’s lawyers filed a motion on March 15 requesting that the documents under protective order, including many MIT documents, be made publicly accessible. In particular, they requested that the court release the documents without redacting the names and official titles of all law enforcement personnel and employees of MIT and JSTOR that appear in the evidence. Swartz’s lawyers pointed out that many of the names and titles were already publicly known and that redacting the names and titles would make the documents difficult to comprehend. Also, both MIT and JSTOR had produced some of the documents for the case when there was no protective order keeping them from the public. Swartz’s lawyers also said that there was a compelling public interest in the unredacted documents being made public.
Both MIT and JSTOR agreed that parts of the documents should be made public, but with some redactions to protect employees involved. MIT had been the target of several threats in response to Swartz’s death. In February, a false report of a gunman on campus targeting MIT president L. Rafael Reif in retaliation for Swartz’s death shut down MIT for several hours. MIT’s network was also hacked on three separate occasions. In a letter in The Tech on March 20, Reif said that some of the documents contain information about vulnerabilities in MIT’s network and that he had the responsibility to “protect the privacy and safety of those members of the community who have become involved in this matter in the course of doing their jobs for MIT, and to ensure a safe environment for all of us who call MIT home.”
In the letter, Reif said that the MIT-related documents would be released, with names and titles and network vulnerabilities redacted, at the same time as releasing the Abelson report. MIT computer science professor Hal Abelson was tasked by Reif to investigate MIT’s role in the Swartz case after Swartz’s suicide in January. In a letter from Abelson to The Tech on May 14, Abelson said that the plan was to give the report to Reif “this summer.”
On May 13, Judge Gorton sided with MIT and JSTOR, saying that documents could be released with some identifying information redacted and ordered all parties (MIT, JSTOR, and the government) to submit an agreement as to the release of the documents. The parties submitted the plan on Friday, and was signed into action by the judge on Monday. The 88-day process began this week, and at the end, the documents that have been hidden from the public during this case will be available, with parts redacted, to the public.