The identities of confidential informants and undercover agents are the most sought-after information in the criminal underworld, and the most protected at all levels of law enforcement. The Dallas Morning News says it is no wonder that Who’s a Rat – a Web site that specializes in making those names public – has aggravated authorities and could lead to a clamp-down by the federal courts over public access to some criminal case files. Last week, the policymaking arm of the nation’s federal judiciary stopped short of mandating that plea agreements no longer be made public but recommended that all 94 federal trial courts take steps to seal information about whether a defendant has cooperated with authorities. The decision came after plea agreements downloaded from the court’s nationwide Public Access to Court Electronic Records system (PACER), began showing up on the Web site.
Dallas federal court officials have not decided what changes to make in the handling of plea agreements, “but we start from the presumption that it is a public record,” said Chief U.S. District Judge Sidney Fitzwater. Whosarat.com was started four years ago by Sean Bucci, a Massachusetts marijuana trafficker recently sentenced to 12 ½ years in prison. He has turned the Web site over to family and friends to run. The site seeks to expose people who “rat on business associates, friends or family members just to save themselves,” said Chris Brown, whosarat.com spokesman. “Law enforcement isn’t bad, in our view,” he said. “It’s the tactics that they use.” The site has survived because of free-speech protections, he said. “The bottom line is, we provide the forum. The members post.” Whosarat.com is alarming because authorities say it may endanger undercover informants.