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New Website Forces Government to Be More Transparent

New Website Forces Government to Be More Transparent

Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), ordinary U.S. citizens have the right to request information from the federal government. The law is often used by journalists to report important stories, and is used (at least in theory) to help keep the government operating in a lawful, transparent manner.

Sounds great, right? The problem is that each state has its own FOIA laws and regulations, making requesting state records complicated. Even the federal law is riddled with exemptions and bureaucratic red tape. So even though you or I have the right to request information from our government, in reality, only seasoned pros familiar with the law are able to take advantage of it. Even worse, they may not always be able to get the information they want — or they may be charged hefty fees for information that’s supposed to be free.

The Center for Investigative Reporting has decided enough is enough. They’ve teamed up with developers and America’s top investigative reporters to create a new online tool that takes the pain out of the FOIA request process.  Called FOIA Machine, the site automates the request process and helps novices navigate the different laws, regulations and loopholes that might normally keep their request from being granted. It even tracks important deadlines and contact information for you.

At the moment, the system is being tested out by 15 reporters, with another 800 signed up to try it as soon as it goes live. By the end of the year, the tool is expected to be open to the public, so that anyone can request whatever information they need quickly and easily. This could make it easier for citizen journalists, bloggers, activists and people who simply have questions about what their government is doing to get the answers they need. In fact, the CIR is encouraging average citizens to use this information to break important stories even if they’re not journalists.

In an age where it seems unflattering (and sometimes frightening) information about government surveillance is coming out every day, it’s important to be able to use every tool available to keep the government in line. In time, the application will be expanded to help people in nations outside the U.S. request information from their governments as well.

Of course, not everyone thinks that greater access to government records is a good thing. Some are warning that government agencies are going to need to prepare for a wave of requests once the project goes public.

Right now, FOIA Machine is fundraising for the full version of their site on Kickstarter. They reached their initial goal within just a few days of posting the project, but they’re still accepting donations to help implement extra features.

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Photo credit: FOIA Machine

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61 comments

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4:16AM PDT on Jul 31, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

9:14AM PDT on Jul 30, 2013

Thanks for sharing!~

3:00AM PDT on Jul 30, 2013

Thanks for sharing.

10:03PM PDT on Jul 29, 2013

Jen- your persistence is what is commendable! Most Americans wouldn't have fought a full year to get that done! We are complacent. You are a testament to what makes this country great. Doesn't matter if you win or not- you fight & will NOT stop! I need to find a way to put you on auto-green-star so you can get them as often as possible for the next few decades! Even then, you'd be woefully behind! :-) But your character shines & you have done what most would NEVER even consider. 16yrs!!! I'm not educated about Martinez but while I slowly try to read up a little, I will take your word for it. You are obviously a different type of soul. I can feel it even through your typing, which is VERY difficult in most cases.

My only experience w/the FOIA is seeing some stuff regarding the 1st Great Depression era & some of what happened in 1933 & 1934. The KC Massacre in June 1933 is a great example. Best book on it is by Robert Unger- he wrote finished it ~1999 IIRC. He requested ALL pages of the case through the FOIA. He spent a fortune & several YEARS getting it all, AND, when he got it, lots of parts were intentionally blacked out!!! And THAT was >60YEARS later, when most of the cast was long gone!

5:23PM PDT on Jul 29, 2013

You know,.. I hate being brutually transparent and honest, Robby, but I have to say it urks me to no end to see New Mexico's Governor, Suzana Martinez on the front page of Prime Magazine (A recreation magazine for the retired folks here) Posing an excited smile from ear to ear, standing next to Sir Richard Branson, promoting the new space hanger as a tourist site here! I can't imagine his words if he knew what kind of human being she REALLY is! I'd love nothing more than to see her Hispanic butt impeached from office for the imformation that the public is being withheld from! She is one of two governors in the whole U.S. who has made it possible for Illegals to live a cushy life in New Mexico while taking advantage of her own citizens. After the state government of Arizona made it law to confront anyone looking suspicious upon being an illegal, they all fled to New Mexico to live and work.That's what you call EXPLOITING the Freedom Information Act!

4:54PM PDT on Jul 29, 2013

Robby,. Are you sure about that? It's taken me a Looooong time to learn how to advocate for myself! I haven't exactly come out a complete winner, but I at least know the truth! if you knew how much I have been through since living in New Mexico, l could tell you things that would leaves HUNDREDS outside the doors of state and federal agencies as well as news media agencies. You've only heard the tip of the iceberg!
What people don't understand Robby, is that, alot of times the pathway to your "Freedom Information Rights" comes with a price, and when you can't pay for it, you get screwed Personally and Financially, but in the long run, you'll know who wears the REAL hat of integrity. You might end up feeling like a fool for being played, but it won't be your karma,.. it will be the individuals (Ko-horts)who played you with dishonesty who will pay the price down the road.

4:44PM PDT on Jul 29, 2013

noted

4:20PM PDT on Jul 29, 2013

Jen- that's an incredible story! Most would've given up YEARS ago, but 16 of them??? I admire your persistence & want you on my side :-) Good work!

6:55AM PDT on Jul 29, 2013

Transparency is a hot topic and if that helps

9:01PM PDT on Jul 28, 2013

They can say anything-doesn't mean we really get to see true facts.

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