A federal judge has ordered the release of court documents pertaining to the criminal hacking case against the late Internet activist Aaron Swartz, albeit with certain caveats including the redaction of any personally identifying information the documents contain.
Reuters reports that U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton in Boston demanded all personal identities of witnesses and law enforcement personnel named in the court documents be redacted before their release. The documents, which may reveal the extent that MIT and JSTOR played in Swartz’ prosecution, will be edited out of fear of vigilante justice against those named in the Swartz documents.
"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 in his ruling (available here as a PDF).
In July 2011, Swartz was accused of 13 felony counts of hacking after setting out to “liberate” more than 4 million academic articles by copying them from JSTOR and MIT’s servers and releasing them for free on the internet. This January, Swartz committed suicide before the case went to trial, sparking widespread grief and outrage across the Internet.
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After Swartz’s suicide, Internet freedom activists began targeting officials at MIT and JSTOR over their possible role in pushing the felony cases against him. Swartz was a well-respected Internet pioneer for helping create both RSS and Reddit, and his death only seemed to turn him into a martyr in the online community.
Files related to Swartz and his prosecution are currently under a protective order, but are scheduled to be released to the public. However, because of fear over possible reprisal against MIT and JSTOR officials, Gorton opted to release the documents related to Swartz’s prosecution, but only in a censored version. According to CNET, those involved in the litigation have until May 26 to propose an alternate version of the protective order, though MIT has already agreed to release the documents.