An anonymous reader sends over the news that the website MuckRock.com -- an open records website -- has received a threat letter
from the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance, concerning some food stamp data that MuckRock had published. How did MuckRock get the data? It had filed a Freedom of Information Act request to the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance, who gave it to them. Apparently, the department now realized that it released the data in error and is trying to erase the mistake by ordering the site to delete the info.
I am writing to inform you that certain information found on the website http://www.muckrock.com, which lists individual retailer redemptions for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), is posted in violation of federal law.. [sic] This information was erroneously released by the Department of Transitional Assistance to Spare Change News. Federal law prohibits release of such information under 7 U.S.C. 2018(9)(c), and 7 CFR 278.1(q).
Failure to remove this information may result in fines or imprisonment. 7 U.S.C. 2018(9)(c) (“any person who publishes, divulges, discloses, or makes known in any manner or to any extent not authorized by Federal law (including a regulation) any information obtained under this subsection shall be fined not more than $1,000 or imprisoned not more than 1 year, or both).
The Department has told the press
that it was the federal government which alerted it to the mistake and the department decided to inform the MuckRock owner that he might face potential legal problems from the federal government, but didn't intend the letter to be a direct threat from itself. Of course, now that the news of the demand has been made public, the original information will only get that much more attention...