Open FOIL NY Will Speed Up Transparency

New York state is creating a new website to make it easier for the public to get to state records.

Open FOIL NY is a centralized online location to file Freedom of Information Law requests with 59 New York state agencies and public authorities by giving the public a uniform method to submit requests for government records through a single website. In addition, the site provides an open-access records request webform that allows the requester to select multiple state agencies for a single records request. Prior to the launch of Open FOIL NY, there was no centralized location to obtain agency-specific information, no standardized form and the FOIL experience varied from state agency to state agency. State officials also plan to create a system that makes it easier for state officials to process FOIL requests faster, make it easier to collect and review agency records and allow officials to quickly identify records that are frequently requested and should be proactively considered to be released to the public. There is much about the system that is commendable, but we would argue that the majority of records should be released to the public automatically rather than relying on a computer algorithm to tell officials what they should consider making public.

State officials should also consider helping their local government counterparts create such a system. While there are some local residents who are curious about the inner workings of state government and the state’s public agencies, there is likely more interest in local-level records. Creating a system like Open FOIL NY is largely outside the financial capability of local governments. If state officials are serious about transparency, they should find a way to standardize open records at all levels of government throughout the state.