The 4th of July is not only America’s birthday, it’s also the date the federal Freedom of Information Act was signed into law, in 1966.
A critical tool to keeping democracy representative and responsive, FOIA and public records laws are a powerful tool to dig up information on everything from spending and budgets to oversight and animal licensing. One of the best parts about FOIA, however, is that it’s available to everyone: Journalists, activists, businesspeople, government officials — if you have a question for your government, FOIA gives you a way to ask it and get a response.
Our friends Open the Government had a great idea: Encourage everyone to exercise their transparency muscles and FOIA the Fourth. They even put some good suggestions together on what you can request, to which we’ve added some of our own ideas and links to example language you can use:
- Police incident reports
- School performance reports
- School expulsion data
- How safe your airline’s water is
- Chemical accident records
- The license status and history of retirement facilities
- Health and safety inspections for your favorite (or least favorite!) bar and restaurant
- What kinds of fireworks your city is shooting off!
So, as you go out and enjoy all the amazing liberties America affords you, take a moment to exercise them and file a request of your own: It’s the patriotic thing to do.
Happy Independence Day!