The Future of FOIA in an Open Government World: Implications of the Open Government Agenda for Freedom of Information Policy and Implementation

Paper by Daniel Berliner, Alex Ingrams and Suzanne J. Piotrowski: “July 4, 2016 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the 1966 Freedom of Information Act of the United States. Freedom of Information (FOI) has become a vital element of the American political process, become recognized as a core value of democracy, and helped to inspire similar laws and movements around the world. FOI has always faced myriad challenges, including resistance, evasion, and poor implementation and enforcement. Yet the last decade has brought a change of a very different form to the evolution of FOI policy—the emergence of another approach to transparency that is in some ways similar to FOI, and in other ways distinct: open government. The open government agenda, driven by technological developments and motivated by a broader conception of transparency, today rivals, or by some measures, even eclipses FOI in terms of political attention and momentum. What have been the consequences of these trends? How does the advent of new technologies and new agendas shape the transparency landscape?

The political and policy contexts for FOI have fundamentally shifted due to the rise of the open government reform agenda. FOI was at one point the primary tool used to promote governance transparency. FOI is now just one good governance tool in an increasingly crowded field of transparency policy areas. Focus is increasingly shifting toward technology-enabled open data reforms. While many open government reformers see these as positive developments, many traditional FOI proponents have raised concerns. With a few notable exceptions, the academic literature has been silent on this issue. We offer a systematic framework for understanding the potential consequences—both positive and negative—of the open government agenda for FOI policy and implementation….(More)”.