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Judge: MIT can redact info in Swartz documents

May 14, 2013

BOSTON (AP) — The Massachusetts Institute of Technology can black out the names of university officials when releasing documents related to the investigation into free-information activist Aaron Swartz, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton wrote in the decision Monday that disclosure could expose MIT employees, law enforcement officials and others to harassment and retaliation.

Swartz, 26, hanged himself in New York City in January as he faced trial on charges he hacked into the JSTOR archive of scholarly articles at MIT with the aim of making the information freely available.

Since Swartz died, MIT’s computer system has been hacked multiple times. The campus was placed in lockdown in February when someone called to report a gunman in a university building, but MIT later said the report was a hoax apparently prompted by Swartz’s death. Employees of the government, MIT and JSTOR have also been harassed and received threats, Gorton said in his ruling.

Lawyers for Swartz had asked that the documents be made public. MIT agreed but wanted some information withheld.

“After weighing all of the interests at stake, (the court) concludes that 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.

MIT has said it plans to publicly release redacted versions of the documents it provided in the Swartz case. That will happen at the same time MIT releases the results of an internal review of its role in the case. No date has been set for the release.

“The court’s decision will help protect the privacy and safety of the members of the MIT community,” MIT said in a statement Tuesday.

Swartz’s family has said his suicide was “the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach.”

Federal prosecutors have defended the charges against them and said they acted appropriately.

The charges were dropped after Swartz’s death. Swartz’s attorney did not immediately return a message seeking comment Tuesday.

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