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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

"Go file a FOIL!"

As a librarian, it is, of course, my job to try to find information. Frankly, I HATE it when I can't find it. But I do recognize that there are certain data that do not exist, or that only reside in certain expensive databases or reports.

What I haven't been able to accept, however, is the government being an obstructionist to the access of information by requiring Freedom of Information Law requests to stall their response. The law that was designed to open government has been used to obfuscate.

And what incredibly sensitive material have I been looking for? Things like the number of a particular brand of automobile registered in a certain county.

Here's my working theory, at least at the state level: as more and more information has been placed online by government agencies, which may have led to a reduction of staff that used to be necessary to retrieve such information, the agencies have decided that any questions that are not on their public websites can fall under the FOIL law; they'll give it to you, but it'll cost you. Indeed, the FOIL allows for cost-recovery, so ANYTHING asked that's out of the ordinary becomes FOILable.

I have filed one FOIL request, to the NYS Department of State. While DBAs (certificates of people "Doing Business As"), are processed on the county level, the numbers are supposed to be collected at the state level. I was told that I had to file a FOIL request. So I went down and did so. I'm still waiting. Almost two years. For the number of businesses registered by county? Ah, FOILed again.

Since that time, I've discovered that others have had similar difficulties, including the media, for a variety of reasons, such as those elocuted here. So, this week, Sunshine Week, honoring the 40th anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act, open up your government. File a FOIL. Learn more about the process here. I'm going to re-file mine today.

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