Judge Tells Homeland Security To Shut Up And Release Aaron Swartz's File

from the about-time dept

After Aaron Swartz's suicide, Kevin Poulsen filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Department of Homeland Security, asking for the Secret Service's file on Aaron Swartz, since it was the Secret Service that handled the bulk of the investigation. Aaron, himself, was a big user of the FOIA process, including retrieving his own FBI file concerning his earlier run-in with the authorities over downloading PACER material. So it seemed bizarre that the Secret Service denied Poulsen's request, "citing a FOIA exemption that covers sensitive law enforcement records that are part of an ongoing proceeding." Considering that the case was closed and Swartz was dead, that seemed like a ridiculous excuse.

Poulsen went through the official appeal process, which was ignored leading him to officially sue. In May, the government admitted that the law enforcement exemption no longer made sense, but then continued to do nothing about releasing the documents. However, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly (a former FISA Court judge, and a name associated with various other high profile cases over the years) has now ordered the government to begin releasing the documents it has held about Aaron.

DHS claims that just last week it found a new stack of documents, and that it needs time to go through them all. The judge gave them a deadline of August 5th, but said it needs to already start releasing the documents it has already reviewed.

Filed Under: aaron swartz, colleen kollar-kotelly, foia, homeland security, kevin poulsen, secret service

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Jul 2013 @ 5:48am

    The FOIA process is not simply grabbing documents and sending copies indiscriminately. Federal agencies almost universally have a FOIA Office that is staffed by people well versed in law. They are generally mid-level civil servants who, when a FOIA request is received, send out a memo to the "world" asking agency groups to go through their files and identify any that appear to meet the types of files being requested. Memo recipients gather any such files, initially assess if a FOIA exemption might apply, and then forward them en masse to the FOIA Office. It is the job of the FOIA Office to then ascertain is the initial assessments have a basis for claiming an exemption, and ultimately respond back to the requestor with copies of what can be released and a detailed listing of each document withheld and why. Depending upon the scope of the request, action by the FOIA Office my run from only a few days to many, many months. Sometimes FOIA Office responses are delayed because third party (non-government) information is involved, and the third party must be consulted.

    The point of my above summary is merely to point out that in many instances (not necessarily here, but perhaps) the turn around for FOIA requests is a time-consuming task that can take an inordinately long amount of time.

    Have I seen some FOIA "games"? Yes, a very few, but they tend to be quite rare and the process should not be vilified entirely because of this minority.

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