An Open Letter To The Secret Service Regarding The Aaron Swartz File
Dear Secret Service,
Greetings. My name is Daniel Wright and my requester number is 20130429.
I write you to express my dismay in how the Secret Service’s FOIA office has conducted itself in regards to my request for the Secret Service files on Aaron Swartz. A formal request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) conforming with your guidelines was sent by certified mail and received in February 2013. After making repeated phone calls over a space of weeks to the FOIA communications center I was finally given an acknowledgement letter on April 5th, 2013 that the office had formally received the request on March 5th, 2013 (excerpted below).
I attributed the initial slow moving nature of the process to the rational expectation that bureaucratic safeguards were in place to ensure the Secret Service’s information was protected from undue disclosure. Over the course of the next months – despite explicitly asking – I was never told if my request was being accepted or rejected despite it being clear that Mr. Swartz, being a deceased person, was explicitly covered under the Secret Service’s FOIA guidelines. Proof of death was provided in the form of an obituary.
While I was never told whether or not my request was being accepted or rejected another person making the request apparently was told they were being rejected. That person, Kevin Poulsen of Wired, then sued the Department of Homeland Security for access to the files. In the lawsuit it was disclosed that Mr. Poulsen had been informed of his formal rejection and therefore Mr. Poulsen, unlike myself and perhaps others, was given the opportunity to seek relief knowing his request was rejected.
In May 2013 I again contacted your office to learn, with considerable surprise, that my FOIA request would now supposedly be reviewed for release and that it had previously been rejected. Information I would not have had otherwise but for my continual phone calls as I was sent no documents or other communication informing me of the rejection despite making available my address, phone number, and email address to the FOIA office.
After yet another call with the Secret Service’s FOIA office yesterday (June 20th, 2013) I was told the files were still under “legal review.” But have since learned from Mr. Poulsen, via Twitter, that representatives of the government have missed a legal filing deadline and that Mr. Poulsen has been told he will be receiving information from the files.
This entire process has been incredibly byzantine and opaque, a tremendous irony given the information requested is on a transparency advocate the Secret Service had investigated. Your inability or disinterest in complying with your own stated standards and processes is very disappointing.
As you have apparently now declined to continue fighting disclosure of the files in court and have told at least one requester the files are forthcoming, I ask that you comply with all requests made under the Freedom of Information Act regarding Secret Service files on Aaron Swartz, including my own.
Request # 20130429