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 @ 7:42am

    Re: Re:

    It's actually a mixed bag. In many offices, FOIA is a collateral duty that occipies less than 1% of an individual's time. In other offices, there are several employees where FOIA is their full-time job. Needless to say, it's reasonable to expect that the latter are a little more familiar with the FOIA, processing rules, etc.

    More concerning in this case is the allegation that the appellate authority ignored the appeal. Assuming the appeal was ignored, rather than closed on a procedural basis, this is extremely problematic. The point of the administrative appeal process is to ensure a cosistency of response across a FOIA program. Furthermore, appellate authorities tend to be actual lawyers and the entities involved in litigation should it come to that. So they have a compelling reason to get it right.

    Also, I'd say that the processing time can actually range from less than a day (there are instances of same-day response) to taking several years, especially when dealing with records coordinated between several agencies. And that goes double (at least) for classified information.

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