The U.S. Secret Service on Monday released the first 104 pages of agency documents related to its investigation of Aaron Swartz, the Internet activist who committed suicide earlier this year while under federal prosecution.
The heavily redacted documents, which were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request filed by Wired, focus mostly on the specific charges against Swartz and his arraignment as well as computer equipment seized during the execution of a search warrant on his Cambridge, Mass., apartment in 2011. The activist hanged himself in January while facing 13 felony charges of document theft.
"Swartz was home at the time the search was executed," one document reads. "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 documents also confirm the agency's interest in Swartz's "Guerilla Open Access Manifesto," a 2008 document in which he advocated for open access rights to documents on the Internet and called the free sharing of information a "moral imperative." A memorandum included in the document dump details a May 2011 interview in which investigators asked an unidentified "friend" about the authorship of the document:
[Redacted] stated that after he read the Guerilla Manifesto he became interested in the idea of it and [redacted]. [Redacted] stated that he believed Aaron Swartz wrote the manifesto but could not remember if he ever had a conversation with Swartz confirming with Swartz that Swartz wrote the manifesto. [Redacted] stated that, "they believe that the open access movement is a human rights issue."
Swartz was arrested in July 2011 and accused of stealing 4 million documents from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Jstor, an archive of scientific journals and academic papers. He had faced up to $4 million in fines and more than 50 years in prison if convicted.
Critics of the prosecutors in the case accused the feds of unfairly trying to make an example out of the 26-year-old Internet activist. Swartz's family called his death "the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach." U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder defended the criminal case, saying the penalties sought represented a "good use of prosecutorial discretion."
Last month, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ordered the Secret Service to share the intelligence it collected during its investigation of Swartz. Wired's Kevin Poulsen, who filed the FOIA request, writes that the agency estimates it has 14,500 documents related to the case that it plans to release on a rolling basis.