Blogger could face jail time and fine for publishing food-stamp data

Joe Pompeo

Move over, Julian Assange.  There's a new document leaker making headlines.

His name is Michael Morisy, the co-founder of a Massachusetts-based open-records website and blog called MuckRock, and he recently published some data about food-stamp money being spent throughout the state as part of a federal nutrition program. Morisy obtained the data through an open-records request with the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance, but the federal government claims the information was released in error, thus violating federal law. So it alerted the department.

Now, as the Boston Globe reports, Morisy could face jail time. "Failure to remove this information may result in fines or imprisonment," read a letter he received from the state on Monday.

"I was surprised, especially given how helpful they were to begin with,'' Morisy told the Globe. "I'd never heard of a case where information released under a Freedom of Information request was then ordered to be taken down.''

The data in question was published on Oct. 18. In a post explaining why he requested the information, Morisy wrote:

The Federal food stamp program, more formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), has seen nearly all-time highs in participation, due largely to the "great recession." For the first time, however, MuckRock is able to provide a deeper look in just the recession has affected spending trends, and also to reveal the surprising retailer that has seen a massive spike in SNAP reimbursements over the past five years.

The American Civil Liberties Union has come to Morisy's defense, claiming that the state of Massachusetts is ultimately responsible for releasing the information. Un-publishing it, the ACLU argues, would violate the First Amendment. A local attorney is taking on the case free of charge.

In a mission statement, MuckRock describes itself as "the easiest way for journalists, bloggers, interest groups and everyday citizens to file, track and share documents through freedom of information laws. You have a right to know what you're government is up to; We make sure you can."

(Screenshot courtesy of the MuckRock blog)