MIT Trying To Block The Release Of Aaron Swartz's Secret Service File (Techdirt)
Monday July 22nd, 2013
It's not all that uncommon to see government agencies try to refuse to release information that is subject to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request -- but to have a non-governmental third party jump into a FOIA request to seek to block the info from being released? That's pretty damn rare. But it's happened -- and, amazingly, the third party is MIT, a school that is supposedly dedicated to advancing knowledge. Except, apparently, if that knowledge is going to make MIT look bad.
We recently noted that Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly had ordered Homeland Security to release the Secret Service file on Aaron Swartz that had been requested by Wired reporter/editor Kevin Poulsen. However, MIT has now stepped into the case trying to block the release of the information. The judge has consented to putting a stay on the initial order until MIT can file its motion.
MIT's concern -- as it was in a separate legal fight concerning releasing the evidence used against Aaron -- is apparently that the released documents will reveal which MIT employees helped with the investigation, and that could lead to unwarranted harassment. However, as Poulsen notes, the documents that have already been released have been redacting those names, so it's unlikely that these further releases would leave those same names unredacted.
The larger issue, however, is that an institute of higher learning, one which supposedly supports information sharing and knowledge transfer, is intervening in a FOIA case to actively support keeping information from the public. This is quite incredible, and a rather shameful move from the MIT administration, following a string of similarly shameful moves having to do with how it handled the Swartz situation from the very beginning. As Poulsen notes, the situation is incredibly rare:
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, David Sobel, has been litigating FOIA for decades, and heís never encountered it either. Itís saddening to see an academic institution set this precedent. MIT was one of the first universities to support open online courses. It has a long history of encouraging the open exchange and sharing of knowledge and information. It seems like quite a departure from its history and mission to suddenly focus on trying to increase the government's secrecy and blocking access to information.