A fundamental change to New York's Freedom of Information Law would create a system that would achieve what was always supposed to be the desired result — making public records available to the public.
FOIL, signed into law decades ago, has a simple premise: When a person requests to see a public record the government must provide a copy of it. The reality is that the flow of information can be unreasonably slow, with some government agencies employing every tactic at their disposal to stall the release of documents or deny lawful requests altogether.
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Reinvent Albany, a nonprofit government watchdog group, formally asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature this week to fix FOIL by creating a state OpenFOIL portal, a proactive online disclosure site allowing easy access to public records, the ability to see and track FOIL requests and download frequently requested records. The site could additionally provide a permanent display of all records that have been provided and specific data on pending, granted and denied requests.
Reinvent Albany argues that one of the reasons FOIL is ineffective is because state and local agencies can become overwhelmed with requests, leading to situations in which disclosure deadlines are missed by several months, so easy access to records can reduce the burden on those charged with administering FOIL for their governments, agencies and authorities.
A one-stop online source of public information would be a great step in increasing government transparency in New York, and we encourage legislative leaders and the governor to give this proposal their full attention.
The Citizen editorial board includes publisher Michelle Bowers, executive editor Jeremy Boyer and managing editor Mike Dowd.