Punk Freedom of Information Access ninja learns how to beat FBI obfuscation, so they shut him out

Mike sez, "In Mother Jones, Will Potter profiles Ryan Shapiro, a punk rocker-turned-PhD student who wanted to study how the FBI monitors animal-rights activists. Through trial and error, and a lot of digging, he devised a perfectly legal, highly effective strategy to unearth sensitive documents from the bureau's 'byzantine' filing system.

In short, he got too smart for the feds, so they've cut him off. Now Shapiro has sued the FBI to release some 350,000 documents he's requested under FOIA. If the court buys the FBI's argument here, open-government groups say it could make it harder for scholars and journalists to keep tabs on federal agencies. Potter explains:"

Evoking a legal strategy that had its heyday during the Bush administration, the FBI claims that Shapiro's multitudinous requests, taken together, constitute a "mosaic" of information whose release could "significantly and irreparably damage national security" and would have "significant deleterious effects" on the bureau's "ongoing efforts to investigate and combat domestic terrorism."

So-called mosaic theory has been used in the past to stop the release of specific documents, but it has never been applied so broadly. "It's designed to be retrospective," explains Kel McClanahan, a DC-based lawyer who specializes in national security and FOIAlaw. "You can't say, 'What information, if combined with future information, could paint a mosaic?' because that would include all information!"

Meet the Punk Rocker Who Can Liberate Your FBI File (Thanks, Mike!)

(Photo: Stephanie Crumley)