For a law associated with sunshine, the Freedom of Information Act hasn’t had much time in the limelight. Long considered the domain of dogged investigative journalists and crackpot conspiracy theorists, FOIA spent much of the new millenium in the shadow of its much more photogenic younger sibling Open Data. As the world moved more digital and transparency became the default, the idea of citing some arcane legalase to be begrudgingly granted access to records - paper records - seemed such a laughably archaic concept that the whole thing had to be on its way out, replaced by something far more efficient any day now.
And yet here we are, in the middle what feels like a FOIA renaissance. Just over half a century after FOIA was first signed into law - with state-level public records laws quickly following suit - and more people than ever are asserting their legal right to hold government accountable, at both the highest level as well as in their own neighborhoods. Isolation has given way to community, as journalists, activists, and concerned citizens have begun working together to uncover new and exciting ways to uncover what’s being done by ostensible public servants - and by so doing, remind the government just who they’re working for.
For Sunshine Week, we wanted to look at how public records has been behind some of the biggest headlines of the year, and how those stories can inspire a whole new crop of reporting. Each story is linked to examples in MuckRock’s archive of 60,000+ existing requests, so if you like the reporting, copy the request language and file your own! Sunlight may be the best disinfectant, but transparency is contagious.
Image via U.S. National Archives Flickr