Strengthening Freedom of Information Law

New York’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) is the single most important tool the public has for keeping our state and local governments transparent and accountable. Unfortunately, FOIL is often slow and frustrating for both the public and government. Worse, agencies frequently ignore, and delay and obstruct the release of public records. Some of these issues can be addressed by executive action. For example, in April 2015, Reinvent Albany joined seven other good government groups to ask NYC Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter to provide uniform FOIL guidance to mayoral agencies for responding to FOIL requests.

FOIL Reports

Creating an Online FOIL Portal

We would like to see New York State and New York City each use a single, transparent website to process their FOIL requests and responses. Our model is the federal government’s FOIAonline and the city of Oakland’s RecordTrac. Our research suggests that an “OpenFOIL” portal could save New York City $12m in FOIL processing costs while vastly reducing delays and ensuring public records are released fairly and in accordance with the law.

Benefits of an “OpenFOIL” website

  • All requests and responses are archived and publicly searchable. Members of the public will see if their question has already been asked and answered. Records access officers will avoid repeat requests for the same information.
  • Records officers will upload responsive documents to the portal and “attach” them to the applicable request, where records access officers will review them.
  • Redacting records will also be done within the portal itself, without the need to print, manually redact, and re-scan thousands of sheets of paper.
  • FOIL responses will no longer be mailed on CDs if they’re too large to email. Records officers will upload responses to the portal for public download.

Further Reading