Aaron Swartz Records to Be Unsealed for Congress

     (CN) – As Congress considers whether prosecutorial overreach led to the suicide of Internet activist Aaron Swartz, a federal judge unsealed certain discovery materials.
     In his short life, Swartz’s contributions to the tech community were legion. In addition to helping found Reddit.com and Creative Commons, Swartz contributed to the development of the RSS web feed format and campaigned against the controversial Stop Internet Piracy Act.
     In January 2011, Massachusetts Institute of Technology police arrested Swartz for downloading more than 4 million articles from the academic journal database Jstor, with the alleged intent of making the papers available online for free.
     Federal prosecutors later charged the programming prodigy with two counts of wire fraud, and 11 violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
     Facing more than 30 years in prison and $1 million in fines, Swartz hanged himself on Jan. 11, 2013, at age 26.
     His suicide spurred two congressional investigations into prosecutorial overreach, multiple online petitions to the White House and renewed interest in the causes Swartz had espoused.
     Swartz’s family meanwhile sought to modify the blanket protective order on his criminal case and release court records of Swartz’s prosecution to the public.
     U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton granted the family’s motion on Monday, but allowed both MIT and Jstor an opportunity to review and redact any documents that may discuss “the victims’ computer systems and security measures.”
     According to the government’s indictment, the victim of Swartz’s actions had been Jstor, even though the database decided not to press charges.
     Gorton also closed off public and congressional access to information identifying MIT and Jstor employees involved in Swartz’s prosecution.
     “The estate’s interest in disclosing the identity of individuals named in the production, as it relates to enhancing the public’s understanding of the investigation and prosecution of Mr. Swartz, is substantially outweighed by the interest of the government and the victims in shielding their employees from potential retaliation,” Gorton wrote.
     After Swartz’s death, multiple people involved in the investigation received threats, and MIT and Jstor’s computer networks were hacked. Swartz’s name was also reportedly invoked by an unknown person who called MIT and reported that an armed gunman was on campus to assassinate MIT’s president. The report turned out to be a hoax.
     In light of these threats, Gorton held that “any individuals newly named in the discovery materials face potential reprisals and that their interests strongly support redaction of such identifying information.”
     “In sum, although the public has expressed a strong interest in the investigation and prosecution of Mr. Swartz, that fact does not bestow upon his estate the right to disclose criminal discovery materials produced to his counsel solely for the purpose of preparing for trial,” Gorton added. “This is particularly true where disclosure may subject third parties to threats and harassment, and where those same parties have already expressed their intention to make public the records sought with appropriate redaction.”
     Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, are the lawmakers who called for congressional investigation into Swartz’s prosecution.
     Congress is also considering passing Aaron’s Law, introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., to decriminalize breaches of a websites’ terms of service agreements, which became felony offenses under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act in 1986.

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