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The Man Who FOIA'd Too Much24:00

This article is more than 5 years old.
The National Archives at College Park, MD. (Ben Schumin/Flickr)
The National Archives at College Park, MD. (Ben Schumin/Flickr)

Ryan Shapiro just might be the biggest thorn in the side of the FBI. As an animal rights activist he broke into factory farms and freed the live stock. He filmed it. He was civilly disobedient. But in the post 9-11 world, he began to take an interest in how the government deals with groups deemed to be threats to national security.

Now, he's an MIT doctoral student trying to understand precisely how the feds target and investigate animal rights activists. The problem is, the FBI won't reveal much about that. In fact, the government has gone to court to block the release of hundreds of thousands of documents that Shapiro wants.

Shapiro has filed hundreds of Freedom of Information Act requests — or FOIA requests. He's also sued the FBI, multiple times. In fact, he has five pending lawsuits against the agency for failing to comply with his FOIA requests. According to a recent profile in Mother Jones, Shapiro is the FBI's "most prolific" Freedom of Information Act requester.

But his work raises big questions about how the government keeps secrets; about the public's right to know; and about whether the government is complying with laws upholding the public's right to know.


Ryan Shapiro, Ph.D. student at MIT, Mother Jones calls him the FBI's "most prolific" FOIA requester.

Scott Hodes, president of the American Society of Access Professionals. He is a former FOIA official with the FBI.

This segment aired on November 21, 2013.

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