FBI Investigated Coder for Liberating Paywalled Court Records
By Ryan Singel
October 5, 2009
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.
But that’s what happened, as Swartz found out this week when he got his FBI file through a Freedom of Information Act request. A partially-redacted FBI report shows the feds mounted a serious investigation of Swartz for helping put public documents onto the public web .
The FBI ran Swartz through a full range of government databases starting in February, and drove by his home, after the U.S. court system told the feds he’d pilfered approximately 18 million pages of documents worth $1.5 million dollars. That’s how much the public records would have cost through the federal judiciary’s pay-walled PACER record system, which charges eight cents a page for most legal filings.
“I think its pretty silly they go after people who use the library to try to get access to public court documents,” Swartz said. “It is pretty silly that instead of calling me up, they sent an FBI agent to my house.”...