Hacking the FBI: How & Why to Liberate Government Records
Ryan Noah Shapiro PhD candidate, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
After narrowly avoiding a lengthy activism-related prison sentence, I began PhD work at MIT in part to map out the criminalization of political dissent in Post-9/11 America. Especially in trying to obtain records from the FBI, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) work became an essential component of my research. However, it quickly became apparent that the FBI routinely refused to comply with FOIA. Less clear was how the Bureau was managing to accomplish this systematic violation of federal law. Consequently, I spent years using FOIA and other tools to map out the hidden mechanisms of FBI non-compliance with the Freedom of Information Act. It worked. Using the FOIA methodologies I’d developed, I began receiving tens of thousands of pages from the FBI on its targeting of domestic protest groups. As a result, the FBI is now attempting to shut down my research by arguing in court that my dissertation FOIA research itself is a threat to national security.
Such efforts by the FBI are just one component of the ongoing crisis of secrecy we now face. The records of government are the property of the people, but these records are consistently withheld from us. My talk will cover my research into the historical and contemporary use of the rhetoric and apparatus of national security to marginalize political dissent, my work to reveal the hidden mechanisms of FBI FOIA operations, the FBI’s efforts to shut down my research, the ongoing crisis of secrecy and consequent threat to democracy, and the pressing need for additional modes of hacking the FBI and other intelligence agencies to pick up where FOIA leaves off. The records of government belong to us. It’s time to reclaim them.
Ryan Shapiro is a transparency activist and PhD candidate in MIT’s Department of Science, Technology, & Society (HASTS). Ryan’s research focuses on the political functioning of national security and the policing of dissent. To this end, he currently has over 700 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests in motion with the FBI, making him the FBI’s “most prolific” FOIA requestor. Ryan also has numerous FOIA requests in motion with the CIA, DIA, and NSA, as well as a host of active lawsuits against these agencies for their routine failure to comply with his FOIA requests. The FBI is even now arguing in court that Ryan’s dissertation FOIA research itself is a threat to national security.