MIT Steps In To Block A Reporter From Getting Aaron Swartz's Secret Service File

aaron swartz


Aaron Swartz

Wired's Kevin Poulsen filed a lawsuit asking the government to grant him thousands of pages of Secret Service documents about the late activist and programmer Aaron Swartz under FOIA.

A judge agreed and told the government to turn over the documents.
But right before they did, MIT stepped in and asked for a delay.
"I have never, in fifteen years of reporting, seen a non-governmental party argue for the right to interfere in a Freedom of Information Act release of government documents. My lawyer has been litigating FOIA for decades, and he’s never encountered it either," writes Wired's Kevin Poulsen.

Swartz, who faced 30 or more years in jail for hacking charges, committed suicide in January. His legal trouble came from downloading massive amounts of documents from the JSTOR online journal archive over MIT's network. He was protesting how JSTOR limited academic research to those with paid accounts and wanted to make those documents available for free.

Many described the charges and potential jail time as an overzealous prosecution and a contributor to his suicide.

MIT fears that some of the Secret Service documents would reveal the names of employees who helped investigators and that they could be subject to harassment, reports Poulsen.

But Poulsen says that with FOIA documents, names of of third parties, like any MIT employees, would already be blacked out. That means there's no need for MIT to step in to protect them. MIT has expressed this concern before. After Swartz's suicide, MIT initiated its own investigation promising to look into its role in the situation. In March, MIT agreed to release public documents related to the prosecution of Swartz, saying the names of employees involved would be redacted.

All of this has made Poulsen more eager than ever to get those documents. "We’ll be in court to oppose MIT being granted any right to redact the documents, and to oppose any further delay in filling this seven-month-old FOIA request,' he writes.