MIT plans to release documents in Aaron Swartz case

Aaron Swartz
Pernille Ironside/ThoughtWorks/AP
Aaron Swartz

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.

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.”

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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.

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.