May 27, 2016

MuckRock, a website that helps journalists and others request, analyze and share public records, has been forced by a court order to remove documents.

A Washington state court ordered MuckRock to remove documents after a private company filed a temporary restraining order, claiming the City of Seattle mistakenly released records that reveal the company’s trade secrets, including an audit and two-page security overview.

MuckRock says the public agency that released the documents has not indicated that they were released in error, nor has the city asked that the documents be removed.

The company, Landis+Gyr, which is owned by Toshiba, has also demanded that MuckRock destroy any copies of the records and help identify readers who saw them.

MuckRock founder Michael Morisy says he is astonished by the ruling and plans to fight the company in court. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit digital rights group, has agreed to represent MuckRock.

“These kinds of prior restraint and document clawback are more common than people think, even with public records,” Morisy wrote. “I’m disappointed that the injunction was granted but look forward to pushing for the rights of all requesters in the court of law.”

This is not the first time MuckRock has been told to take down public records.

In 2010, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration told Morisy that he could face jail time for publishing information that showed how much money in food stamps had been spent at businesses around the state.

MuckRock received the information through a public records request, but the state said it was released in error. The state eventually backed down, according to Morisy.

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Kelly Hinchcliffe is an investigative reporter at in Raleigh, North Carolina, and is passionate about public records. She previously worked as an education reporter…
Kelly Hinchcliffe

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