The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), first enacted in 1966 provides a way for citizens, activists, and journalists to coax information out of the government. The Government doesn’t make this easy, but a new, already-successful crowdfunding project hopes to provide a solution by largely automating the FOIA process.
Nine kinds of documents benefit from explicit exemptions to FOIA requests, including national secrets, personal medical information, and others. Those exceptions aren’t the only obstacle to releases of public information. Labyrinthine rules, procedures that vary by state and agency, and the general absence of any desire to reveal more information faster than is legally required all create a challenge for the enterprising citizen looking to shed some sunlight on what happens behind closed government doors.
A project of the The Center for Investigative Reporting, FOIA Machine is a software solution to the nitty-gritty of submitting FOIA requests. Much in the same way that Turbo Tax offers a universal platform for navigating complex and varied state rules, FOIA Machine is a broad platform that can navigate the particular procedures of each state, as well as federal regulations.
FOIA Machine grew out of a project designed “to collect statistics on government response times to public records act requests.” So the Center for Investigative Reporting plans to gather data on how the machine is used, and how responsive the government is to information requests.
Of course, the real fun will be when faster, better, and more frequent FOIA requests reveal the true nature of the Reptilian Illuminati running our government. Kidding! Maybe.