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Some Swartz documents released, others will have to wait

Seven months after the suicide of Internet activist Aaron Swartz, several parties continue to seek the release of evidence, Secret Service files, and other documents related to Swartz and the government. MIT has delayed the release of these materials by consistently seeking redactions of employee names and certain network details, citing concerns about privacy and security.

On Aug. 12, the Secret Service released 104 pages of its files on Swartz. Authorities seized Swartz’s blue metallic iPod during their investigations, among other electronics, one document shows. Another document, a heavily redacted interview write-up, suggests that the Secret Service probed into Swartz’s Guerilla Open Access Manifesto, which argues for open access to scientific journals.

These documents are but a sliver of the 14,500 pages the Secret Service has that may be related to Aaron Swartz.

So far, the largest collection of released documents related to the investigation and prosecution of Swartz is the one MIT released on July 30, as promised by President L. Rafael Reif in March after calls for transparency. The collection includes 3,756 pages of emails and materials shared with state and federal prosecutors, and 154 pages of emails and materials shared with Swartz’s defense.

The documents, in which most names of MIT employees are blacked out, include pictures of Swartz in the Building 16 closet where he hooked his laptop up to a network switch and downloaded millions of JSTOR research papers using a Python script in 2010 and 2011. Those actions, which disrupted MIT’s access to JSTOR for three days, led to 13 felony charges, pursued by what many saw as an overzealous prosecution.

The estate of Aaron Swartz moved in March to release evidence, unmodified, from that case, U.S. v. Swartz. However, the judge agreed to let MIT and JSTOR make certain redactions to protect their employees and network security. Under the agreed-upon schedule, which was most recently pushed back this month, MIT and JSTOR should have handed over redacted versions of the documents in question by Aug. 16. Swartz’s lawyers have until Sept. 13 to object to any of those redactions.

Court proceedings in the Secret Service case, Poulsen v. Department of Homeland Security, appear to have halted for two weeks now as lawyers from all sides discuss how best to satisfy the demands of MIT, JSTOR, the Secret Service, and Wired reporter Kevin Poulsen, who in February filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the Secret Service’s files on Swartz. In July, MIT and JSTOR intervened in the case, asking for redactions, after the judge ordered the release of the files in accordance with Poulsen’s request. The 104 pages that have been released do not reference MIT or JSTOR employees.

—Leon Lin