MIT Moves to Block Release of Aaron Swartz’s Secret Service File
Above Photo: Daniel Sieradski / Flickr
Lawyers representing MIT are filing a motion to intervene in my FOIA lawsuit over thousands of pages of Secret Service documents about the late activist and coder Aaron Swartz.
I am the plaintiff in this lawsuit. 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. Two weeks ago U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ordered the government to “promptly” begin releasing Swartz’ records. The government told my lawyer that it would release the first batch tomorrow. But minutes ago, Kollar-Kotelly suspended that order at MIT’s urging, to give the university time to make an argument against the release of some of the material.
Based upon an off-the-record conference call with the parties’ counsel and counsel for non-party Massachusetts Institute of Technology (“MIT”), the Court understands that MIT intends to file a motion to intervene later today, which will include a request for relief relating to the Government’s production of certain documents to Plaintiff. In view of the impending motion, the Court hereby STAYS the obligation of the Government to promptly release to Plaintiff all responsive documents that it has located on a rolling basis, see Min. Order (July 5, 2013), until further order of the Court. Once the Court has had the opportunity to review MIT’s motion to intervene, and has considered the positions of the Plaintiff and the Government as to the motion, it shall order a schedule for further proceedings.
MIT claims it’s afraid the release of Swartz’s file will identify the names of MIT people who helped the Secret Service and federal prosecutors pursue felony charges against Swartz for his bulk downloading of academic articles from MIT’s network in 2011.
MIT argues that those people might face threats and harassment if their names become public. But it’s worth noting that names of third parties are already redacted from documents produced under FOIA.
I’ll post MIT’s motion here once it’s filed.
I have never, in fifteen years of reporting, seen a non-governmental party argue for the right to interfere in a Freedom of Information Act release of government documents. My lawyer has been litigating FOIA for decades, and he’s never encountered it either. It’s saddening to see an academic institution set this precedent.
We’ll be in court to oppose MIT being granted any right to redact the documents, and to oppose any further delay in filling this seven-month-old FOIA request.
Update: MIT just filed seven documents in the case. You can read the entire collection below.