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08/13/2013

Aaron Swartz' Secret Service files released

2013-01-13T214237Z_01_TOR604_RTRMDNP_3_PEOPLE-SWARTZ-INTERNET
Aaron Swartz in 2008. The internet activist committed suicide in January of 2013. (REUTERS/Noah Berger)

 

The sad saga of Aaron Swartz is far from over -- and if you needed any more proof, just look to the news that 104 pages of the late activist's secret service files were turned over to a journalist at Wired magazine.

Kevin Poulsen is Wired's investigations editor, and someone who knew Swartz through their mutual involvement in the tech/coding/open-source world before the 26-year-old Swartz committed suicide in January.  When he hung himself in his Brooklyn apartment, Swartz was facing trial and likely jailtime for accessing and downloading part of a database of academic papers.

He was charged with hacking and fraud. Sympathizers -- and there were many sympathizers -- felt that was unduly harsh for what he had (allegedly) done.

Poulsen filed a Freedom of Information request for any secret service files on Swartz, was denied, and fought back in court, successfully: a judge ruled that the files must be released in batches. (It wasn't a secret that government investigators had been keeping tabs on Swartz; he had blogged about his FBI files in 2009.)

These 104 pages are the first batch, and while they don't contain any stunning disclosures, they do help flesh out the persona of someone who has become a martyr for what many in the tech world -- and outside of it -- believe is the government's over-zealous prosecution of Internet freedom activism and, indeed, the limiting of Internet freedom itself. 

Poulsen singled out for attention some reports from the batch of documents that discuss a visit the Secret Service made to Swartz' home, with Swartz present, and especially this line: "While the search was conducted, Swartz made statements to the effect of, what took you so long, and why didn’t you do this earlier?"

Poulsen doesn't say so, but that kind of response is exactly how Swartz operated: challenging authorities in a way that was more teasing than anarchic. 

There are another 14,500 pages waiting for release, Poulsen says, so stay tuned.

Kate Allen is the Star's science and technology reporter. Find her on Twitter at @katecallen.

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