When 22-year-old programmer Aaron Swartz decided last fall to help an open-government activist amass a public and free copy of millions of federal court records, he did not expect he’d end up with an FBI agent trying to stake out his house.
As the piece goes on to describe, the FBI launched its investigation just before Swartz (and Carl Malamud, the above mentioned open-government activist) were profiled in The New York Times for their efforts to place as many uncopyrighted district court documents, usually available for eight-cents a page via the courts’ clunky PACER system, online for free. Swartz designed a computer program that took advantage of free use of the PACER system at some libraries to extract almost 20 million pages of documents, gratis.
As the FBI went about its business, they eventually contacted Swartz for an interview, which he wisely declined. And after the investigation was thankfully dropped—to me, it’s pretty clear that Swartz committed no crime, and that calling the FBI was a massive and troubling overreaction—Swartz decided to extract another set of government documents: he filed a Freedom of Information Act request for his FBI records, which he posted last night on his blog.Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.