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FOIA: Department of Justice CCIPS Notes On Aaron Swartz Investigation

{!hitembed ID=”hitembed_1″ width=”210″ height=”190″ align=”right” !}

In early 2013, I sent a series of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests out to three government agencies that I knew were investigating the late Aaron Swartz. Swartz committed suicide in January of that year arguably in part due to the harassment he was facing from state authorities. I was not a personal friend of Swartz, just an admirer and, like many who use the internet, a beneficiary of his work. And, more to the point, his case seemed worth exploring as an example of both overreach by careerist prosecutors looking to make a name for themselves and the abuse of the problematic Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).

While there may have been more than three agencies investigating Swartz the three I sent FOIA requests to were the FBI, Secret Service, and the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS) of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice.

The FBI responded to the FOIA with notes from its PACER investigation. The file was redacted in numerous places and I find it hard to believe what was sent is the totality of what the FBI has. An appeal was filed with, as of yet, no results.

The Secret Service had a more interesting strategy. First, they outright denied a request from Jason Leopold then of Truthout but told me continually that it was being processed and had not been formally denied. The Secret Service had also denied Kevin Paulsen then of Wired magazine who subsequently sued them and won. The result was that the Secret Service agreed to release 14,500 documents related to the Swartz investigation piece by piece on their website.

CCIPS was by far the most frustrating FOIA experience. The FOIA contact, Kenneth Courter, initially told me it would be a matter of months. Months later he told me he was hoping to have it sent out by the end of the year (2013) so as not to have a backlog of outstanding FOIA requests at his office. In 2014 I was called by someone else saying my FOIA request was actually in the back of the line and would take a long time. In an act of desperation (not having the capacity to sue) I filed a request last month asking for “processing notes” – information on how my FOIA request was being handled/mishandled – something I highly recommend doing as shortly thereafter I received the documents embedded below last week.

According to the documents much of the investigation CCIPS conducted was referred to the FBI and US Attorney with the majority of the FOIA response being a series of emails between two individuals whose names are withheld. CCIPS also responded to my FOIA with a copy of Power Point slides of a presentation by Steve Schultz of the Berkman Center titled “Open Access to Government Documents: … or, “Federal Court Documents: Even Google Can’t Find Them.”

The impression one gets from the documents is that CCIPS was involved primarily in the PACER investigation and was inquiring about it as late as April 2009. The extent to what CCIPS withheld is, obviously, hard to say.

In any case, this concludes my extremely minor involvement in this horrible affair. Since his death Swartz’s life and case have been thoroughly examined by many and perhaps most substantively in the documentary The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz – which I recommend. People have sought to learn lessons and find some greater meaning in this tragedy. I, for one, see it merely as a reaffirmation of the fragility of life and a reminder of the carnage that can ensue when the brilliant and sensitive face off with the craven and ruthless. But based on what I’ve read of Swartz and his work he would probably prefer that you think for yourself and draw your own conclusions. Please do.

{!hitembed ID=”hitembed_2″ width=”NaN” height=”500″ align=”none” !}

(Problems downloading or viewing document email me ds83wright [at] gmail.com)

CommunityThe Bullpen

FOIA: Department of Justice CCIPS Notes On Aaron Swartz Investigation

{!hitembed ID=”hitembed_2″ width=”210″ height=”190″ align=”right” !}

In early 2013 I sent a series of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests out to three government agencies that I knew were investigating the late Aaron Swartz. Swartz committed suicide in January of that year arguably in part due to the harassment he was facing from state authorities. I was not a personal friend of Swartz just an admirer and, like many who use the internet, a beneficiary of his work. And, more to the point, his case seemed worth exploring as an example of both overreach by careerist prosecutors  looking to make a name for themselves and the abuse of the problematic Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).

While there may have been more than three agencies investigating Swartz the three I sent FOIA requests to were the FBI, Secret Service, and the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS) of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice.

The FBI responded to the FOIA with notes from its PACER investigation.  The file was redacted in numerous places and I find it hard to believe what was sent is the totality of what the FBI has. An appeal was filed with, as of yet, no results.

The Secret Service had a more interesting strategy. First they outright denied a request from Jason Leopold then of Truthout but told me continually that it was being processed and had not been formally denied. The Secret Service had also denied Kevin Paulsen then of Wired magazine who subsequently sued them and won. The result was that the Secret Service agreed to release 14,500 documents related to the Swartz investigation piece by piece on their website.

CCIPS was by far the most frustrating FOIA experience. The FOIA contact, Kenneth Courter, initially told me it would be a matter of months. Months later he told me he was hoping to have it sent out by the end of the year (2013) so as not to have a backlog of outstanding FOIA requests at his office. In 2014 I was called by someone else saying my FOIA request was actually in the back of the line and would take a long time. In an act of desperation (not having the capacity to sue) I filed a request last month asking for “processing notes”  – information on how my FOIA request was being handled/mishandled – something I highly recommend doing as shortly thereafter I received the documents embedded below last week.

According to the documents much of the investigation CCIPS conducted was referred to the FBI and US Attorney with the majority of the FOIA response being a series of emails between two individuals whose names are withheld. CCIPS also responded to my FOIA with a copy of Power Point slides of a presentation by Steve Schultz of the Berkman Center titled “Open Access to Government Documents: … or, “Federal Court Documents: Even Google Can’t Find Them.”

The impression one gets from the documents is that CCIPS was involved primarily in the PACER investigation and was inquiring about it as late as April 2009. The extent to what CCIPS withheld is, obviously, hard to say.

In any case, this concludes my extremely minor involvement in this horrible affair. Since his death Swartz’s life and case have been thoroughly examined by many and perhaps most substantively in the documentary The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz – which I recommend. People have sought to learn lessons and find some greater meaning in this tragedy. I, for one, see it merely as a reaffirmation of the fragility of life and a reminder of the carnage that can ensue when the brilliant and sensitive face off with the craven and ruthless. But based on what I’ve read of Swartz and his work he would probably prefer that you think for yourself and draw your own conclusions. Please do.

{!hitembed ID=”hitembed_1″ width=”NaN” height=”500″ align=”none” !}

(Problems downloading or viewing document email me ds83wright [at] gmail.com)

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Dan Wright

Dan Wright

Daniel Wright is a longtime blogger and currently writes for Shadowproof. He lives in New Jersey, by choice.