MediaPost is asking a federal judge to unseal documents in the Federal Trade Commission's lawsuit against Amazon, which resulted in a finding that Amazon bilked parents for their kids' in-app purchases.
In a motion filed Thursday in federal court in Seattle, MediaPost argues that legal papers filed by Amazon and the FTC should be made available so that the public can understand why U.S. District Court Judge John Coughenor sided with the FTC. Public Citizen lawyer Paul Alan Levy is representing MediaPost.
"Our nation’s long history of open access to trials demonstrates that summary judgment opinions and records must be available to the public," the motion says. "The public interest in this particular case is heightened because the plaintiff, a federal agency, sues on behalf of the public, and the defendant is one of the country’s largest and most influential corporations."
Last week, Coughenor released two rulings -- a complete decision, which was marked as "sealed" and a decision for the public, which was marked as "redacted." That redacted version has large swaths of text covered with black bars, but the opinion can be read in its entirety by cutting and pasting it into another file. The version marked "redacted" was available through the court's electronic records system until last Wednesday, when it was removed from PACER.
Some of the redactions apparently aimed to protect Amazon from embarrassment. For instance, one sentence of Coughenor's opinion reads: "The evidence demonstrates that Amazon knew that many customers did not understand in-app purchases when they were first implemented."
The redacted version blacked out the words "Amazon knew that" from the sentence.
The redacted opinion also refers to Amazon's marketing strategies. One blacked-out sentence reads: "In developing its Kindle Fire tablet, Amazon identified 'soccer parents' as a key target customer base, referring to them as 'low-hanging fruit.'"
MediaPost, along with Georgetown University Law Center professor Rebecca Tushnet, is now asking Coughenor to unseal his opinion and portions of the summary judgment motions filed by the FTC and Amazon.
"The material does not appear to be libelous or slanderous, merely embarrassing to Amazon -- thus not permissibly sealed," the motion says. "Dissemination of judicial opinions is necessary for the public to understand what the law is...Furthermore, public access to judicial opinions and the moving papers that gave rise to them enables the public to oversee the work of the courts."
The FTC on Thursday filed its own motion urging Coughenor to unseal many of the records in the case.
"Throughout this litigation, Amazon has mass-designated as confidential the vast majority of the documents it produced to the FTC," the agency says in its papers. "Given that this Court has now entered a dispositive ruling bearing on the FTC’s enforcement of a federal consumer protection statute, there is a significant and overwhelming public interest in the record underlying that decision."
Amazon last Thursday publicly filed a new proposed redacted order. That version has fewer redactions than the original, but still contains blacked-out portions. The FTC says in its motion that Amazon "did not explain the bases for its redactions, much less demonstrate a compelling reason for maintaining the information under seal."
In other words, MP has publicly revealed here, through their Wendy Davis, that they're taking the high road as public advocate, and by the way MP already has the unredacted version (probably in multiple copies safely locked away, digital and printed out,) and they were able to figure out how to reveal the redacted portions, probably in less than an hour, all legally; there is no law against opening the publicly available version, clicking "select all," and pasting the result into "another file." (Word doc?) AWESOME. Whoever imagined Ken Fadner, Jeff Loechner, Joe Mandese and company would take on the mantle of investigative crusaders after all these years? Bravo, gentlemen.
Kudos to Joe and Team for staying on this story.
And the workaround for reading the redacted sections is brilliant (is the DoJ sleeping or what?).
What I don't understand is why only those sections were blocked since the judge had reason to redact virtually the entire document.
And to Mr. Bezos - Shame on you for allowing this to happen on your watch.
Having worked in and for government agencies, I can surmise with confidence that the government staffers simply didn't know how easy it would be to workaround the redactions with readily available desktop technology. As an aside, I wonder if the Washington Post will cover this with the same aggressiveness as MP.