FOIA Machine: Because Prying Secrets Out of Washington is Hard

Posted by The Center for Investigative Reporting

To make government accountable, people have to know the facts. But prying secrets out of Washington or any governmental agency is hard. Support our Kickstarter to combat this! 
 
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) says that everyone has the right to get access to governmental information, in the form of public records requests. However, this does not mean getting access to the information is easy. FOIA is extremely complex and the government doesn’t just hand all documents over easily. 
 
“Just because information is supposed to be public doesn’t mean it’s easy to get,” says Michael Corey, a news applications developer at The Center for Investigative Reporting. “In the real world, requesting public records means being a quasi-legal expert for whatever jurisdiction you want records for, and the process can often take a year or longer.” 
 
CIR and the FOIA Machine to the rescue 
 
A team of journalists and technology experts is building and developing an online platform called FOIA Machine. 
 
 
FOIA Machine is an integrated web platform developed by veteran investigative reporters and technology pros. It’s like TurboTax for government records.
 
We’re streamlining the whole complicated process of filing and tracking public record requests, putting all of the steps, rules, exceptions and best practices in one place and allowing users to track requests on dashboards, receive alerts, share request blueprints and get social support from the FOIA Machine community. This new platform is open and free for anyone.
 
The Center for Investigative Reporting is serving as an incubator while the project is being prototyped. Once FOIA Machine launches, Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), a national non-profit housed at the Missouri School of Journalism, will host the project.
 
FOIA Machine needs your help
 
The Freedom of Information Act became law on July 4, 1966 – and it’s been fighting for its life ever since. Presidents and Congress have tried to make it harder to use. Sometimes they’ve been successful; sometimes they haven’t. CIR and FOIA Machine will help keep the laws strong by using them tenaciously and teaching others how to do the same. 
 
Today, FOIA Machine can generate, edit and send requests to government agencies fairly well. It's useable but it's not ready for the general public.
 
That's why we created a Kickstarter project. We're asking for your help to finish development, improve design and pay for servers and data curation. 
 
We launched our Kickstarter on July 16th with a goal of $17,500. The Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute committed to match every Kickstarter pledge up to $15,000, giving the team enough to launch.  The Kickstarter campaign exceeded its goal within the first 48 hours. The FOIA Machine team is pulling together a list of new improvements and features to develop with the additional funding.  
 
Now in its alpha phase, FOIA Machine currently has 15 users sending real freedom of information requests, but there are hundreds of people waiting to use it. Be part of this project to open up our government. Go to Kickstarter now! 
 
This project is part of GOOD's series Push for Good—our guide to crowdfunding creative progress.