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Judge orders redacted Aaron Swartz prosecution docs to be revealed

MIT and JSTOR allowed to black out names and network info

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A US judge has ordered that documents from the criminal hacking case against internet activist Aaron Swartz should be unsealed, after they've been redacted by MIT and JSTOR.

Swartz took his own life in January just ahead of the trial over the theft of academic articles from online reference library JSTOR using a computer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which he allegedly planned to distribute online for free.

Since his death, critics have questioned whether Swartz was being prosecuted over-zealously, claiming that the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act under which he was charged carries overly heavy penalties and that prosecutors should make the distinction between misuse for criminal purposes and civil disobedience.

Both MIT and JSTOR argued against unsealing the court documents because people involved with the case had already been harassed and threatened. Revealing any other names would subject them to the same potential harassment, the two institutes said. However, they agreed that blanket protective orders preventing disclosure of the documents could be modified to apply only to sections of the paperwork, once names and identifying information had been blacked out.

District Judge Nathaniel Gorton therefore ordered the filings unsealed, once identities and sensitive information had been obscured.

"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 said in his ruling.

"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.

"Redaction of this kind of information perhaps runs a greater risk of rendering aspects of the government's investigation less clear to the public because it will result in the redaction of what was said, rather than merely who said it. Even so, the redaction is justified in order to protect the victims from further network intrusions," said Gorton. ®

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