Jul 03 2007

Responding to Freedom of Information Law Requests Using IT

IT can help states respond to FOIL requests, making records available to the public inexpensively and quickly.

FOIL's Every Wrinkle

New York's FOIL defines a record as "any information kept, held, produced or reproduced by, with or for an agency or the state legislature, in any physical form whatsoever including, but not limited to, reports, statements, examinations, memoranda, opinions, folders, files, books, manuals, pamphlets, forms, papers, designs, drawings, maps, photos, letters, microfilms, computer tapes or discs, rules, regulations or codes."

When the New York Legislature enacted its Freedom of Information Law in 1974, electric typewriters and copiers were cutting-edge technology.

FOIL, designed to give the public access rights to government records, grew out of the nation's Watergate scandal as well as a pair of federal laws, the Sunshine Act and the Freedom of Information Act. The main thrust? Guarantee the public's right to know about the activities of New York government. At the time, many state agencies maintained records by hand, sometimes producing copies on carbon paper. Though difficult to imagine today, when mass storage, scanning devices and instantaneous e-mail transmission are the norm, the vast majority of requests for records in the 1970s were fulfilled by simply pulling documents out of filing cabinets.


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