Plans for releasing Swartz evidence

MIT plans to make documents public, but with names redacted

In a letter this morning, MIT’s president announced plans to make requested Swartz-related evidence public, with names redacted to “protect the privacy and safety of those members of our community.” However, much of this information is already publicly known and has been published by The Tech and the New York Times, among others.

Aaron Swartz’s lawyers filed a motion on Friday 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.

In the letter (, see page 9), President L. Rafael Reif said MIT will release requested documents to the public, but with some redactions. It’s not clear that MIT’s opinion will be final — the decision still rests with Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton of the Massachusetts District Court, who was assigned to Swartz’s case.

Reif said that some of the documents contain information about vulnerabilities in MIT’s network and that he has 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.”

“Therefore — 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’s letter said.

However, in the motion, Swartz’s lawyers point out that “most of the titles that the Government seeks to redact are already publicly known” and that both MIT and JSTOR produced documents for the case when there was no protective order.

The court placed a blanket protective order over the evidence in November 2011, preventing the evidence from becoming public. However, prior to that in October, The Tech published a motion that quoted emails extensively, and the New York Times quoted from internal MIT documents in an article published in January.

Reif’s letter said that the requested MIT documents will be released at the same time as Hal Abelson’s report. After Swartz’s death, Abelson was tasked to analyze MIT’s involvement in the case. No timeline has been given for the report, and it is possible that the court will change the terms of the protective order to make documents public before the Abelson report is ready.

During the memorial service for Swartz at the MIT Media Lab last Tuesday, Swartz’s partner, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, said that MIT’s investigation would not be in “good faith” if it opposed the lifting of the order.

“We expected that MIT would act in the nature of openness and transparency and are surprised that they have not and that they continue to not to be open and transparent as to what happened,” said Robert Swartz, Aaron’s father, in response to Reif’s letter.

JSTOR’s response was similar to MIT’s. “We believe the information we provided to the United States Attorney’s Office in this case should be made open and available to the public. In a letter dated Feb. 25, we agreed to the lifting of the protective order so long as the articles downloaded from JSTOR were not released and the identities of our staff are protected,” said Heidi McGregor, a JSTOR spokeswoman, in an email to The Tech. “We do not agree that individuals’ names need to be included with these materials to serve the public interest.”

Various media outlets and Congress have requested these materials for their own investigations into Swartz’s prosecution. The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform began an investigation in January after Swartz’s death and requested access to these documents on Feb. 4.

In discussions prior to the motion, the government 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 extent of redactions. The government sought to redact all names and identifying information of law enforcement, MIT and JSTOR personnel since “revealing the names of any of these individuals, even to Congress, might lead to some form of retaliation.”

Swartz’s lawyers said that “the public interest in access to these materials in an intelligible form outweighs the limited privacy interest in the names and official titles of the individuals named therein.”

Also on Friday, Jack W. Pirozzolo, First ­Assistant U.S. Attorney for ­Massachusetts, became involved in the Swartz case. According to an article in the Boston Globe, Pirozzolo took a role because he has been involved in the discussions on the modifications of the protective order.

“As you can see from the ­motion itself, the United States and Mr. Swartz’s attorneys have been discussing over the past few weeks a way to ensure that Congress and the public receive access to appropriate information subject to the protective ­order, while at the same time taking into account the interests of individuals who may be affected by modification of the order,” he said to the Globe.

“Although the United States and representatives of Mr. Swartz agreed on many proposed modifications to the ­order, the United States and Mr. Swartz’s representatives did not reach agreement on the scope of the redactions,” Pirozzolo said.

“The United States expects to respond to the motion within the time provided by the district court rules,” he said. “It will also request that individuals potentially affected by the modification of the order be given an opportunity to be heard on the proposed modifications.”

1 Comment
Barry Kort about 10 years ago

What I'm waiting to learn is where MIT is coming out on the long-festering culture war between the traditional scientific and academic research culture vs the bureaucratic and security-driven culture.