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Sharpio’s systematic use of FOIA for investigating the federal government’s targeting of environmental activists—many of whom have been labeled “domestic terrorists”—even led the FBI to consider his work a “threat to national security.”

While the government is generally fine with releasing small batches of records, even if they require heavy redactions, the pages requested by Shapiro eventually numbered in the hundreds of thousands; the government then argued that, combined, the records had a “mosaic effect” that could, theoretically, reveal national security secrets. (There is no limit on the number of documents one person can request under the law.)

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In combating government agencies who fail to relinquish records under the FOIA statute, Shapiro frequently partners with Jeffrey Light, an attorney widely recognized as the top expert in transparency lawsuits targeting, in particular, the FBI, one of the more combative agencies when it comes to records requests. (Recommended reading: “How a video game about sheep exposes the FBI’s broken FOIA system.”)

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“The first thing to know about dealing with the FBI for FOIA work is that the Bureau is simply not operating in good faith,” says Shapiro, who has never been one to shy away from accusing the FBI of employing deceptive tactics to keep even the most benign documents out of the public’s grasp. He’s even accused the FBI of intentionally limiting the effectiveness of its FOIA officers by continuing to use decrepit, antiquated technologies.

And that’s actually not uncommon. The National Security Agency (NSA) temporarily stopped processing record requests a few years ago because, it said, a fax machine was broken at the Office of the Secretary of Defense. (No, seriously.)

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“While FOIA with some agencies can be akin to a protracted business meeting or an attempt to get customer support from a telecom over a holiday weekend, FOIA with the FBI is a street fight,” Shapiro tells Gizmodo. The Bureau does nearly everything it can to prevent the release of records, he says, which results in an “outrageous state of affairs in which the leading federal law enforcement agency in the country is in routine and flagrant violation of federal law.”

To be clear, anytime a federal agency doesn’t abide by the time limits for releasing records under FOIA, it is breaking the law. Gizmodo has numerous outstanding FOIA requests that both the DOJ and FBI have not responded to within the statutory 20 days. Shapiro says his group has roughly two dozen lawsuits currently in play as a result of federal agencies failing to properly respond to FOIA requests.

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At the start of the Trump administration, Shapiro—along with Light and author/activist Sarahjane Blum—launched a nonprofit known today as Property of the People, the sole mission of which is to enforce transparency by, essentially, suing the shit out of government agencies that fail to properly respond to FOIA requests. (Its overall goal is to actually improve the system.) Under the Property of the People umbrella, Shapiro and his cohorts conduct Operation 45, a transparency project that specifically targets the Trump White House.

Among Property of the People’s various achievements, the group has exposed the FBI’s earliest known use of remote-installation anti-encryption malware; the FBI’s “anti-communist crusade” against Nelson Mandela; and details about the CIA’s efforts to spy on the US Senate while it was investigating the CIA’s torture program.

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“The Freedom of Information Act is one of the most underappreciated elements of the entire American experiment,” Shapiro says. “The notion that the records of government are the property of the people, and all we need to do to get them is to ask, is radically democratic. But FOIA is broken.”

“One of the core causes of FOIA’s brokenness is that there are essentially no penalties for noncompliance,” Shapiro adds. “So despite FOIA being federal law, if an agency doesn’t want to comply with the Freedom of Information Act, it often simply refuses to do so.”

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Asked if he was ever concerned that the FBI labeled his FOIA research methodologies a threat to national security, Shapiro replies: “It’s the best compliment I’ve ever received.”

(Disclosure: Shapiro advised me on best FOIA practices last year, and I donated $50 to his nonprofit prior to my employment with Gizmodo. Gizmodo is also currently in the middle of a lawsuit against the FBI for access to records concerning Fox News founder Roger Ailes, who died this year amid multiple sexual-harassment allegations.)