Getting Government Records Online

The Society of Professional Journalists reports that the Electronic Freedom of Information Improvement Act of 1996 (E-FOIA) is close to being enacted. Final votes are expected in the House and Senate in September on HR 3802 and S 1090. The bills would require federal agencies to make readily reproducible records available in whatever format requested, and would encourage agencies to make certain information accessible by electronic means. Also, agencies would be required to make available online their reference materials, reports and an index of their major information systems. Other provisions of the bill would make it easier to use the FOIA to obtain government records.

The FOI-L discussion list, operated by Syracuse University, provides updates on FOIA issues at the state and local levels. To subscribe, send an E-mail message to: LISTSERV@listserv.syr.edu
In the body of the message, type: SUB FOI-L full_name

Although journalists and researchers are the primary FOIA users, access to government records is also frequently of benefit to public interest organizations and individual activists working on a range of policy issues at the local, state and national level. Supporting legislation that strengthens FOIA is a good way to initiate or strengthen your networking efforts with local media and local research institutions.

An easy way to find out who in your community is interested in these issues is to call the editor or publisher of your local newspaper. Ask if there are local chapters of journalism associations such as the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) or Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE). Get to know these individuals by working with them for passage of the FOIA legislation. This will make it easier to gain their support in the future on other issues.