August 16, 2013. Washington. In January of this year, tech pioneer and inventor Aaron Swartz was found dead at the young age of 26. His family accused federal prosecutors of all but murdering their son with their terror tactics, threats and secret agenda. Now, the Secret Service has released the first 104 pages of their file on Swartz. Readers can access the full batch below.
Aaron Swartz. Image courtesy of Article-3.com.
Most Whiteout Press readers are familiar with the heart-breaking story of Aaron Swartz. A teenage genius, he co-invented the RSS feed and was an early co-owner of social media site Reddit. Earlier this year, he was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame. Unlike most hacktivists, Swartz’ only goal was free and open access for the world’s knowledgebase of basic information.
For releasing a virtual library of millions of educational documents hosted by Harvard University to the general public, he was arrested and charged with 13 crimes including the violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Swartz was threatened by federal prosecutors with a $1 million fine and a 35-year prison sentence.
The secret Secret Service file
This author thought it was strange that an agency like the Secret Service would take the lead role in investigating a crime that was the equivalent of stealing a bunch of library books from a university library and then giving them away free to the poor. But now that the agency that protects the President has released the first 104 pages of its secret and long-awaited 14,500-page Aaron Swartz file, Americans have a better sense why.
As it’s slowly emerging, federal authorities were overcome by a single-minded obsession with stopping the world’s internet freedom movement. At its extreme, some activists within the movement believe that all information and knowledge should be open to the public. Opposing that belief are governments and corporations around the world that are determined to enforce copyright and trademark laws.
Summing up the movement’s core principals, Aaron Swartz had written what he termed the ‘Guerilla Open Access Manifesto’ in 2008. According to Wired.com, it was that Manifesto that federal agents were focusing their case on. Not the release of the library’s educational documents.
‘The prosecution of Aaron Swartz was motivated, in part, by the 2008 “Guerilla Open Access Manifesto” the internet activist had penned advocating for civil disobedience against copyright law,’ the tech publication wrote, ‘The revelation underscores that the hacking charges against the former director of Demand Progress were bolstered by the 26-year-old’s philosophy of a world unhindered by copyright law, a world in which he said it was a “moral imperative” to unshackle the “privatization of knowledge”.’
“They were very focused on it and appeared to be planning to use it as evidence of Aaron’s intent to take the JSTOR material and somehow post it online to make it available for all,” Swartz’ attorney told Wired, “They had spent a lot of energy investigating that document — who wrote it, whether it conveyed Aaron’s point of view, etc.”
First 104 pages
While the above sentiments were published prior to the Secret Service release of the first 104 page of Aaron Swartz’ file, the documents just published by the agency appear to confirm it. As detailed in a follow-up Wired.com article published this week, ‘The heavily redacted documents released today confirm earlier reports that the Secret Service was interested in a “Guerilla Open Access Manifesto” that Swartz and others had penned in 2008.’
It was Wired’s Kevin Poulsen that filed the Freedom of Information Act Request for release of the Aaron Swartz files. After being rejected twice by the Secret Service, Poulsen filed his FOIA request with the Department of Homeland Security, which approved it and ordered Secret Service officials to comply. The agency has confirmed it will release all applicable documents on a rolling basis as it finds, inspects and redacts them.
Poulsen has already confirmed that of the 104 documents he’s receive so far, every page has at least some information blacked-out. Most of it, he contends, are the names of Special Agents, individuals who were interviewed by agents or the identities of people who helped authorities with their case against Swartz.
Excerpt from Secret Service file on Aaron Swartz
Wired.com published the full 104 pages this week. Below is a brief excerpt to give readers a sense of some of the entries:
‘On 02/11/11, SA XXXX, ATSAIC XXXX, SA XXXX, SA XXXX and Detective XXXX executed a federal search warrant on Swartz residence located at 950 Massachusetts Avenue, Apartment 328, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Swartz was home at the time the Search was executed. 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? The search team seized several items described in greater detail in the Evidence section of this report. After completing the search of Apartment 320, the search team returned to the first floor to search the storage locker allocated to apartment 326. While on the first floor, SA XXXX observed Swartz leave the building, walk to the street and sprint away after he reached the street. After ascertaininq that none of the items in the storage locker belonged to Swartz, the Search team moved to 124 Mount Auburn Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts where the Harvard University, Safra Center for Ethics is located and Swartz is listed as a lab fellow. The search team observed Swartz at the Safra Center for Ethics. Harvard University police secured Swartz's office while a federal Search warrant was obtained. After the Search warrant was obtained, the team searched Swartz's office at the Safra Center. SA XXXX seized and Apple IMac computer and a Western digital hard drive from Swartz's office.’
Much of the rest of the 104 pages of Secret Service documentation is similar to the above, describing the blow-by-blow details of various searches. Other sections of the released documents include basic summaries of the investigation up to that point. Also included are pages upon pages of receipts and logs from the evidence locker as Swartz’ seized computer equipment was checked in and out.
The government estimates it will take at least six months to review and release the full 14,500 pages covering its investigation and prosecution of Aaron Swartz. To view the first 104 pages, click here.
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