The FOIA and Technology Part One: An Introduction


This blog post begins a five part series on the relationship between technology and the FOIA. This series will examine the various ways that technology has redefined the FOIA process and will look into the future of FOIA processing as well.  We will begin by comparing the old methods of FOIA processing to the new technologically-driven methods.  That post will be followed by a look into modern FOIA technologies and how they are changing the FOIA. Next, we will discuss the idea of the modern FOIA professional — an individual who has combined expertise in both FOIA regulations and the technological tools that drive the FOIA process. Lastly, this series will examine the future of FOIA processing and the idea of increasing transparency and establishing FOIA enterprises.  However, before we discuss these specific aspects of the relationship between the FOIA and technology, let us briefly discuss the background of this relationship and the motivations supporting its expansion.

The Freedom of Information Act is an important part of any democracy and enables a democracy’s citizenry to have accountability over its governing power. The FOIA allows individuals to obtain information on the actions of their government; the greater the transparency, the greater the understanding the citizenry has of the workings of its government. The importance of this right cannot be understated, and nor can the challenges a government faces in the undertaking of supporting a robust and accountable FOIA process.

The days of black marker redactions on paper are long gone.Technology has been a driving force in expediting the FOIA process and increasing government accountability. Through case management systems, such as FOIAXpress, the FOIA process has been almost entirely made electronic, from the receiving of a request, to its processing, to the redacting of documents, and, ultimately, the delivery of documents to the requester. What has driven the use of technology and its innovation has been the effect it has had on the FOIA process. Requests are better managed and processed more quickly and securely. Actions taken by FOIA requester and FOIA professionals are all documented electronically and deliverable in reports. Reporting in general has become simplified and this has allowed the government to increase transparency through the efficient release of data in quarterly and annual reports.

The need for increased transparency continues to drive the development and innovation of many FOIA technologies and the FOIA process. FOIA technologies more and more support the goals of the Open Government Initiative and Paper Reduction Act and the overall goal for government to become more transparent. As the FOIA itself is all too often a slow means for individuals to obtain information, ultimately many in government would like to push to decrease reliance on the FOIA by increasing transparency through proactive release — technology supports this initiative as well.

This series of blog posts will examine the relationship between the FOIA and the use of technologies. It will not only demonstrate where technology has taken the FOIA community, but also what the future may hold.