Despite the laws that are in place, seeking information from any government is no easy task. Whether you are a member of the public seeking something, or worse still, a journalist nosing around to reveal those secrets, anyone who has filed these requests can imagine the difficulty involved.
United States’ Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is one such law that tries to bring in government accountability through public demand. It is, however, riddled with complexities, making it a painful process. The FOIA Machine (http://www.foiamachine.org/) is an online open-source platform that is trying to streamline this process, simplifying it so that it is accessible to everyone. A journalism project by the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), the FOIA Machine has been brought out by a team of investigative journalists, data crunchers and coders.
This project that started in late 2012 aimed at collecting statistics on response times that the government took to public records act requests. In its present avatar, however, it automates the process of filing the request and tracks its progress, apart from aggregating this data.
On July 16, the project was launched on Kickstarter to cover the server costs, finish development and curate the data. Overwhelming support meant that the scheduled funding goal of $17,500 was reached in less than two days. As the campaign is open till August 16, the additional amount collected allows them to stretch their goals to include enhanced features, improved design and an API.
Over 800 journalists have already signed up for this service when it launches to the general public, which is the end of this year.
Once launched, the CIR will hand over the FOIA Machine to Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), a national, nonprofit unit.
While the FOIA Machine does have overlapping features with several public records projects like Germany’s Frag den Staat, Britain’s What Do They Know? (uses Alaveteli), Netherlands’ Nulpunt and US-based MuckRock, it hopes to be a complete package, free for everyone.