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MIT agrees to release documents in Aaron Swartz case

Posted by Your Town  March 19, 2013 09:41 AM

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The president of MIT announced today that the university would release documents related to the case involving the late internet activist Aaron Swartz, following a legal request by lawyers for Swartz's estate.

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In an email to the MIT community, President Rafael Reif wrote that on Friday, lawyers handling Aaron Swartz’s estate filed a legal request with the Boston federal court, demanding the court release public information related to the case.

Reif pledged to release MIT documents at the same time a review of the case being conducted by MIT professor Hal Abelson is made public. MIT has not set a date for the release of the Abelson report.

“In the spirit of openness, balanced with responsibility — we will release the requested MIT documents, redacting employee names and identifying information as appropriate to protect their privacy, as well as redacting information about network vulnerabilities,” Reif wrote. “We will release these documents at the same time that we release Professor Abelson’s report. In this way, our own community and those outside can examine both these primary documents and Professor Abelson’s analysis, which he is now forming through a careful process that includes a review of this written material as well as extensive in-person interviews.”

Swartz committed suicide in January, after a two-year legal battle during which he faced 13 felony charges and up to 35 years in prison. He was accused of hacking into the JSTOR archive system on MIT's network, allegedly downloading more than 4 million articles, some of which were behind a paywall.

The Globe previously reported that in the motion, Swartz’s lawyers
requested that the names and ­titles of all MIT and JSTOR ­employees,
as well as law enforcement officials, be released.

“Both Congress and the public at large have an important role to play
in determining what conduct is considered criminal, particularly in
the relatively new and rapidly evolving context of so-called ‘computer
crimes,’ ” attorneys Elliot R. Peters, Daniel Purcell, and Michael J.
Pineault wrote in the motion.

Both the government and the defense agree that personal information,
such as e-mail prefixes, phone numbers, Social ­Security numbers,
should be withheld. The ­estate’s attorneys argue that all other
redactions are unnecessary.

The lawyers stated that the redactions of some names and titles would
make the “documents at issue materially less intelligible and thus far
less useful to Congress or whoever might review them.”

Prosecutors in Ortiz’s office said they would not agree to a plea deal with Swartz ­unless he pleaded guilty to the felony charges and served a sentence of four to six months in prison. Swartz rejected the offer and was expected to stand trial in April.

In the months since his death, his case has become a rallying point for internet activists and others who say prosecutors overreached.

Since Swartz's death, MIT's computer system has been hacked at least three times.

A hoax caller in late February claimed there was a gunman on campus. The university later disclosed that the caller claimed it was in retaliation for Swartz's death.

The request by Swartz' lawyers demanded numerous MIT documents, Reif said.Reif wrote that these documents contain “information about vulnerabilities in MIT’s network,” as well as names of MIT employees who were involved with the case. Swartz’s lawyers are arguing that these names cannot be redacted.

"In the time since Aaron Swartz’s suicide, we have seen a pattern of harassment and personal threats. In this volatile atmosphere, I have the responsibility to protect the privacy and safety of those members of our 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,'' Reif wrote.

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