The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, citing fear for the safety of its networks and employees, has taken the unusual step of intervening in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit over files related to the late activist Aaron Swartz.
The university, in court documents reported by Wired, is asking a federal judge let its lawyers review redacted Secret Service documents before they are released to the public. The school wants to ensure the papers don’t identify MIT staff who assisted a criminal prosecution that, in the eyes of critics, led the 26-year-old Swartz to commit suicide in January.
The criminal case concerned Swartz’s decision to run a computer script to obtain thousands of scholarly articles from the academic database, JSTOR. Schwartz’s supporters regard his actions as an idealistic gesture to support the sharing of knowledge, and have blasted the school and the government for an over-zealous reaction.
After the Secret Service refused to release details of its investigation, a colleague of Swartz’s filed a federal lawsuit to demand the agency comply with Freedom of Information laws. The judge agreed and two weeks ago told the government to “promptly” release the records.
But the release has now been delayed as the judge considers MIT’s request to review the documents — a request the plaintiff in the FOIA case is opposing. The university in March said it would release its own documents related to the matter.
This post was updated at 7:45am PT to correct the spelling of Swartz’s last name throughout, and earlier to clarify the actions that led to his prosecution.