FOIA Advisor

FOIA News: Reporters and ex-OGIS director chew on the FOIA

FOIA News (2015-16)Allan BlutsteinComment

As government records move from paper to email to channels like Slack, how should FOIA keep up?

“I have a love-hate relationship with FOIA.

By Shan Wang, NiemanLab,  Sept. 30, 2016

The late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia once called the Freedom of Information Act “the Taj Mahal of the doctrine of unanticipated consequences, the Sistine Chapel of cost-benefit analysis ignored.”

For investigative reporters — and increasingly, community groups and even just interested individuals — FOIA is often the single-most useful tool at their disposal.  But even in 2016, as the FOIA law turns 50 years old and as government communications move onto digital platforms, reporters continue to be frustrated by delays and stonewalling, and officials continue to feel overwhelmed by the volume of requests coming their way.  Both sides of the exchange are affected by underdeveloped technical infrastructure for finding, sorting, and delivering records.

In a breakfast discussion at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Friday morning, two reporters and the former director of the Office of Government Information Services tried to clear up misunderstandings around FOIA, how to improve the records request process for both journalists and government workers (one obvious answer: invest more money), and how to make FOIA effective in a world of electronic communication.

Read more here.