FOIA Machine
Center for Investigative Reporting

Freedom Of Information Act Machine Fights Government Secrecy By Automating Transparency Requests

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The Freedom of Information Act Machine, an open online platform that automates Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, launched on Kickstarter two days ago and has already surpassed its funding goal. At the time of publication, it had cleared $20,000 in funding from over 600 backers.

The issue is simple — the state and federal laws and processes for FOIA requests are complex, often purposefully so, and it can be a pain for even experienced reporters to navigate the process.

The FOIA machine does three main things: it automates FOIA requests; it tracks requests, their progress and the dates you filed them; and it aggregates information about FOIA requests and helps build information around how to improve the requests in the future.

“Those who have abused public trust often are able to hide behind all of this bureaucracy,” the team explains on the Kickstarter page. “Their secrets, held in millions of government documents, simply won’t reveal themselves.”

Shane Shifflett, the FOIA Machine’s developer and a data reporter at The Huffington Post, tells me the team had expected to reach the funding goal in around two weeks and has been blown away by the response.

The FOIA Machine, the usefulness of which should be pretty obvious in the wake of PRISM, will be open and free to anyone. The team says over 800 journalists have signed up to use it when it opens to the public, which Shifflett estimates should happen by Christmas.

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The team, made up of investigative journalists, data scientists, and coders, put the project on Kickstarter to raise money to finish developing the site, improve its functionality and to offset server costs.

The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) will be the FOIA Machine’s home until it’s launched to the public, at which point it will be handed off to the nonprofit Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE). Maybe they should start an Acronym Machine while they’re at it.

Shifflett says the extra money raised on Kickstarter will go toward more features (possibly the ability to raise funds via crowdsourcing to pay for users’ FOIA fees that may arise) and an API; he says the group is currently drafting more official stretch goals beyond the original $17,500.

You can check out the Kickstarter page, which is unsurprisingly well written, and contribute here.

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