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FBI Probed Programmer Who Downloaded Pacer Docs for Free Access

Posted Oct 6, 2009 11:12 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A Stanford dropout who wrote the computer program for a mass download of documents from Pacer has learned that the FBI investigated him over the incident.

Aaron Swartz, a 22-year-old programmer, obtained the documents during a trial of free Pacer service at 17 libraries across the country, according to the Wired blog Threat Level. He visited the library at the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, installing script that managed to download almost 20 million pages of court documents. Swartz turned the material over to open access advocate Carl Malamud, profiled as a Legal Rebel by the ABA Journal.

Last week, Swartz learned through a freedom of information request that the FBI drove by his home, but opted against a stakeout because sending a car to his quiet street in Highland Park, Ill., would be too conspicuous.

Federal agents also checked out Swartz’s Facebook page, obtained his work history from the Department of Labor, and looked for outstanding warrants and convictions, according to the blog account. The Justice Department’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section later closed the case and the FBI dropped its probe.

“I think its pretty silly they go after people who use the library to try to get access to public court documents,” Swartz told the blog.

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Carl Malamud: Paper Tiger”

ABAJournal.com: “Free Pacer Sites Shut Down After Mass Download by Open Records Advocate”

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