Aaron Swartz

Aaron Swartz

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who played an active role in trying to incriminate Aaron Swartz, has intervened in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) case regarding Swartz’s secret service file. MIT is claiming it is afraid if the public knew the actions it took there could be a backlash against the personnel at the institution who helped destroy Swartz.

MIT claims it’s afraid the release of Swartz’s file will identify the names of MIT people who helped the Secret Service and federal prosecutors pursue felony charges against Swartz for his bulk downloading of academic articles from MIT’s network in 2011.

MIT argues that those people might face threats and harassment if their names become public. But it’s worth noting that names of third parties are already redacted from documents produced under FOIA.

The Secret Service FOIA case was brought by Kevin Paulsen of Wired magazine after his initial FOIA request was denied. Paulsen ultimately prevailed in court and the records were set to be released before MIT got involved. Paulson has said MIT’s actions are unprecedented.

I have never, in fifteen years of reporting, seen a non-governmental party argue for the right to interfere in a Freedom of Information Act release of government documents. My lawyer has been litigating FOIA for decades, and he’s never encountered it either. It’s saddening to see an academic institution set this precedent.

MIT has tried to cultivate a reputation for openness and positive innovation despite a large portion of its federal grant money coming from designing weapons systems. That reputation has already taken some damage from the Swartz case and is surely to suffer more as information comes out. The move by MIT to intervene in the Aaron Swartz Secret Service FOIA case is practically an admission of guilt. They know they failed miserably to live up to their stated ideals and are desperate to prevent their misdeeds from seeing the light of day.

Full disclosure, I also have a FOIA request into the Secret Service for the Aaron Swartz files and have been informed that compliance with my request hinges on the Paulsen court case.

Photo Courtesy of Quinn Norton released under Creative Commons License