EFF helped online public records platform MuckRock successfully defend three lawsuits filed against it and one of its users over public records that allegedly contained trade secrets. This included vindicating MuckRock's First Amendment rights when a court repealed a previous order that required the platform to de-publish public records the user had lawfully obtained.
The cases began in May 2015 after a MuckRock user requested records from the City of Seattle and its municipal utility seeking information about the city's smart meter program.
Seattle initially released two documents to the requester. By default, MuckRock allows its users to elect to have the documents they receive published to the site after an agency releases them. The documents had been public for more than a month before a company that won the contract for Seattle’s smart meter program obtained the court order requiring MuckRock to de-publish the documents. Several other companies simultaneously filed two other suits against MuckRock and the user, though those suits sought only to prevent release of other records that Seattle had yet to provide to the requester.
EFF, with the help of local counsel Venkat Venkat Balasubramani of FOCAL PLLC in Seattle, successfully reversed the de-publication order, which was a prior restraint that violated the First Amendment. MuckRock was not only able to put the documents back online, but through a settlement that ended the lawsuit, it guaranteed that the company would never try to remove the documents from the website in the future.
Additionally, EFF was able to obtain dismissals against MuckRock in the other two cases, allowing MuckRock to continue its important work as a public records requesting platform.