Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Happy birthday, FOIA... but who's celebrating?

Appropriately, the federal Freedom of Information Act turns 40 tomorrow -- Independence Day, if you had forgotten.

We journalists love the fact that Sunshine Laws exist, and we hope you do, too. Because they don't exist just for people who make a living disseminating information; they're for the public. Which does happen to include us. And you.

Several Times reporters got to take a course this past week dealing with accessing public information and analyzing it in databases, so it is fresh in our minds.

But recent studies suggest FOIA isn't necessarily working as intended. This article from Editor & Publisher says there are some FOIA requests from the REAGAN ADMINISTRATION (that ended when I was in kindergarten) that have gone unanswered. Wow. Louisiana law allows three days for agencies to comply with a records request, so 20 years seems like a really long time. Read our law here. And here is a funnily written blog from Wired about this not-so-funny problem.

The federal government is paying for a FOIA study at St. Mary's University School of Law in San Antonio so maybe that will further the cause of access. But as you can read, not everyone is hopeful.

I talk to people all the time who take the ignorance-is-bliss approach. I don't. What do you think?

Challenge: While you pop some fireworks in the next 24 hours, try to think of some public information you could ask for related to our favorite mini-explosives and put it here in a comment. This sounds like class, huh?

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