Rethinking the Disclosure of Public Information

The New York State Committee On Open Government, led by Executive Director Robert Freeman is a great resource regarding New York’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) and New York’s Open Meetings Law. Mr. Freeman is very accessible by telephone, mail and e-mail and always willing to provide guidance to anyone with questions about accessing government information.

Every year the Committee On Open Government releases an Annual Reportcontaining recommendations for improving public access to government information. This year the Committee is encouraging government agencies to proactively disclose information by making information available on web sites instead of waiting to receive a Freedom of Information request. The Committee encourages government officials to embrace electronic technology referred to as “E-Government” to communicate and collaborate with the public.

Some comments from the Annual Report:

“Several state and local government agencies in New York now routinely post records online, and this trend should be embraced and encouraged. Fully embracing E-Government holds the potential to improve government efficiency and effectiveness, to educate and empower citizens, and to unleash public and private sector creativity and innovation. Adopting the principles of E-Government in New York remains our strongest goal and most urgent recommendation. And the important next step in this evolutionary process requires state and local government agencies to utilize “open data”
wherever possible”.

“Open data is information made available in a digital format that can be retrieved, downloaded, indexed, searched and used with commonly available software and web search applications”.

The Committee on Open Government highlighted several agencies as trailblazers in providing information as open data:

New York State Department of Health – Through its METRIX project, the Department has made numerous data sets available through an open data platform known as Ready access to the Department’s data sets has made them more useful to those within government, those in the private health care sector, and average citizens. For example, if someone has a need for information about nursing homes, they can now go online to locate nursing homes within a certain region, the availability of rooms, the cost, and a facility’s track record pertaining to complaints, safety and care. If you want to know more about a particular restaurant, inspection and violation information is available, along with links to other agencies that post related information.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA)- Countdown Clocks
In New York City real time arrival data for all numbered subway lines will be accessible through an application available for smartphones and home computers, or on the MTA website. It is information especially valuable to those who ride during off hours when trains run less frequently.

The Los Angeles Times: Crime Mapping
By making crime data available on a daily basis, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles Police Department enabled the Los Angeles Times to create a filterable, mapped database of county crime, including current and long term information relating to more than 200 neighborhoods and localities. The database is built entirely from open source software.

Key Recommendations

“Those who want to know what government is doing or has done should not be required to submit a FOIL request in writing to an agency of state or local government each time government information is sought. Beyond rethinking how data is maintained, it is time for government fully to embrace “proactive disclosure” — making records available on websites before the public requests them whenever it is recognized that records available under FOIL are of general interest to the public. When government posts information online, the inconvenience and burden for the public is reduced, as is the time, effort and expense spent responding to FOIL requests”.

The Committee encourages the Legislature to pass legislation requiring all agencies to make available their information of public significance in an open data format, to the extent practicable. The Committee also encourages the Governor to promote the use of open data at the state agency level through an Executive Order or policy directive.

What do you think about the recommendations made by the New York State Committee on Open Government?

Leave a Comment

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply