Skip to content
View Featured Image

Judge Orders U.S. to Release Aaron Swartz’s Secret Service File

A federal judge in Washington, D.C. on Friday ordered the government to promptly start releasing thousands of pages of Secret Service documents about the late activist and coder Aaron Swartz, following months of roadblocks and delays.

“Defendant shall promptly release to Plaintiff all responsive documents that it has gathered thus far and shall continue to produce additional responsive documents that it locates on a rolling basis,” wrote U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly.

The order was issued in my ongoing FOIA lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security – the Secret Service’s parent agency.

It was Secret Service agents who, in 2011, investigated Swartz’ bulk downloads from the JSTOR academic database, leading to the computer hacking and wire fraud case that loomed over Swartz at the time he committed suicide in January.

That criminal case was formally dismissed after Swartz’s death. Yet in February, the Secret Service denied in full my request for any files it held on Swartz, citing a FOIA exemption that covers sensitive law enforcement records that are part of an ongoing proceeding. Other requestors reported receiving the same response.

When the agency ignored my administrative appeal, I enlisted David Sobel, a top DC-based FOIA litigator, and we filed suit. In May, the government belatedly answered my appeal, conceding that the law enforcement exemption no longer applies. But it still hasn’t produced any documents. The government then missed a May 23 deadline to file a reply to the lawsuit.

And then last Wednesday, the Justice Department lawyer on the case asked the court for still more time. He says the government has just discovered a vast new tranche of documents on Swartz.

Defendant has exercised diligence in processing these records. As part of that effort, it undertook an additional search for responsive records in certain agency files, including files located outside agency headquarters in the Washington, D.C. area. Based on this additional search, it learned yesterday, July 2, of files located outside the agency’s headquarters that contain several thousand additional pages that may be responsive to Plaintiff’s FOIA request. […]

The agency’s review of those files will require a substantial amount of additional time.

Judge Kollar-Kotelly is giving the government until August 5 to answer the lawsuit and produce a timetable for releasing all the responsive documents. In the meantime, the government has to start releasing the files it’s already processed. You’ll see them here when I get them.

Disclosure: I knew Swartz, and worked on a project with him.

Sign Up To Our Daily Digest

Independent media outlets are being suppressed and dropped by corporations like Google, Facebook and Twitter. Sign up for our daily email digest before it’s too late so you don’t miss the latest movement news.