Secret Service Sends FOIA Requester A Redacted Version Of A Public DOJ Press Release

from the spinning-secrets-out-of-public-web-pages dept

The government loves its secrets. It loves them so much it does stupid things to, say, "secure the nation..." or "protect the integrity of deliberative processes" or whatever the fuck. We should not trust the government's reasoning when it chooses to redact information from documents it releases to FOIA requesters. These assertions should always be challenged because the government's track record on redactions is objectively awful.

Here's the latest case-in-point: Emma Best -- someone the government feels is a "vexatious" FOIA filer -- just received a completely stupid set of redactions from the Secret Service. Best requested documents mentioning darknet market Hansa, which was shut down (along with Alpha Bay) following an investigation by US and Dutch law enforcement agencies.

The documents returned to Best contained redactions. This is unsurprising given the nature of the investigation. What's surprising is what the Secret Service decided to redact. As Best pointed out on Twitter, the Secret Service decided public press releases by the DOJ were too sensitive to be released to the general public.

Here's one of the redactions [PDF] the Secret Service applied to a press release that can be found unaltered and unedited at the Justice Department's publicly-accessible website:

And here's what the Secret Service excised, under the bullshit theory that a publicly-released press statement is somehow an "inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letter which would not be available by law to a party other than an agency in litigation with the agency."

“This is likely one of the most important criminal investigations of the year – taking down the largest dark net marketplace in history,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “Make no mistake, the forces of law and justice face a new challenge from the criminals and transnational criminal organizations who think they can commit their crimes with impunity using the dark net. The dark net is not a place to hide. The Department will continue to find, arrest, prosecute, convict, and incarcerate criminals, drug traffickers and their enablers wherever they are. We will use every tool we have to stop criminals from exploiting vulnerable people and sending so many Americans to an early grave. I believe that because of this operation, the American people are safer – safer from the threat of identity fraud and malware, and safer from deadly drugs.”

Um. Is Jeff Sessions being Yezhoved by the Secret Service? Does the agency consider him to be enough of a persona non grata after his firing by Trump to be excised from the Secret Services' official recollection of this dark web takedown? This insane conspiracy theory I just made up makes as much sense as anything the Secret Service could offer in explanation for this redaction. The redaction removed nothing but the sort of swaggering statement Attorney Generals always make after a huge bust.

Needless to say, Emma Best is challenging the Secret Service's redactions. Pithily.

I am appealing the integrity of the redactions, as you withheld public press releases under b5, which is grossly inappropriate.

Yeah. That's an understatement. The Secret Service has no business redacting publicly-available info. Even if this was a clerical error, it's so bad it's insulting. And that's why you can't trust the government on things like this: when it's not being malicious, it's being stupid.

Filed Under: doj, foia, press release, redactions, secret service, transparency


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  • icon
    hij (profile), 7 May 2020 @ 3:45am

    disappearing Sessions

    I heard they have also been pulling down statues of Sessions as well. He may want to avoid any trips to Mexico....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Khym Chanur (profile), 7 May 2020 @ 3:47am

    Alternate explanation: they're just fucking with Emma Best. "Lets send her a press release and redact part of it! Har har har". And they either picked the paragraph to redact at random, or picked the paragraph that would confuse people the most.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 7 May 2020 @ 3:52am

      Re:

      Which is actually worse. They're not just incompetently generating extra work at taxpayers' expense, they're doing it for fun.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 7 May 2020 @ 5:35am

        Re: Re:

        Even better, they are generating precedent for reexamining ALL redactions they do.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 7 May 2020 @ 5:29pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          This is just the latest instance of someone giving a FOIA requester the finger. I can think of several I've seen on Techdirt, and there are likely thousands overall. Name me one government employee who's in prison, or has suffered any significant personal repurcussions, for infringing on someone's FOIA rights.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 May 2020 @ 5:37am

    when it's not being malicious, it's being stupid

    ... and that is only when they are not being stupidly malicious

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 May 2020 @ 6:11am

    Jeff Sessions wasn't a bad guy in theory but he obviously didn't take much down on the darkweb if anything at all

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 May 2020 @ 8:20am

    'you can't trust the government on things like this'

    needs changing, and quick, to read:

    'YOU CANT TRUST THE GOVERNMENT'!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    dadtaxi, 7 May 2020 @ 3:29pm

    This should be the poster child example used every time a redacted information complaint goes to court

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Vic, 7 May 2020 @ 5:22pm

    To me it seems like a very good opportunity to file a new FOIA request on all documents related to the censoring choices in this particular case...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 May 2020 @ 8:36am

    Core Principle

    You can't call yourself "The Secret Service," if you fail to keep secrets.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    nasch (profile), 10 May 2020 @ 9:26am

    You can't call yourself "The Secret Service," if you fail to keep secrets.

    What if they fail to correctly identify what is and what is not a secret?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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