Jason Leopold, who is speaking Saturday at the San Francisco hackathon, and also that night at the evening event, wrote about Aaron’s FOIA requests, immediately following his death.
We will be going through the articles referenced in this excerpt below, one by one.
Aaron Swartz’s FOIA Requests Shed Light on His Struggle
From the Truthout article:
Swartz filed his first FOIA request in December 2010, more than two years after he landed on the government’s radar. He was seeking information about himself.
In 2008, Swartz’s friend and fellow open government activist Carl Malamud, the founder of the nonprofit public.resource.org, wanted to make federal court documents housed on the Public Access to Court Electronic Records system (PACER) available to the public for free. Using $600,000 he raised from supporters, Malamud purchased 50 years worth of appellate court documents and posted them on his website.
Then, the government started a pilot program in which access to federal court documents on PACER would be made available to users at no cost at 17 libraries around the country. Malamud urged activists like Swartz to visit the libraries, download the documents and send it over to him so he could make it availble to the public via his website.
“So Aaron went to one of them and installed a small PERL script he had written that cycled sequentially through case numbers, requesting a new document from Pacer every three seconds, and uploading it to” Amazon’s Elastic Compute (EC2) Cloud server, Wired reported. “Aaron pulled nearly 20 million pages of public court documents, which are now available for free on the Internet Archive.”
The court documents Swartz legally accessed were worth $1.5 million. The government shut down the PACER pilot program and the FBI launched an investigtation. Malamud has since published on his website emails he exchanged with Swartz about the incident.
On December 10, 2010, Swartz filed a FOIA request with the Justice Department’s Criminal Division seeking “documents related to me, Aaron Swartz, as well as any documents related to any associated PACER investigation.” The Justice Department said responded by stating it could not locate any records. He also filed an identical FOIA request that day with the Executive Office of United States Attorneys. The office identified 72 documents that were withheld in full.