Monday, September 28, 2020

Access to Information - There's a Day for That?

The United Nations has declared September 28 to be the International Day for Universal Access to Information. Even before UNESCO made that announcement in 2015, an international group has been marking International Right to Know Day since 2002. I'm afraid I've been too busy to plan a party, so let me just mark the occasion with a couple of notes about access to government information. 

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) gives everyone the right to request information from the federal government. The Department of Justice set up as a central site to learn about FOIA procedures. 

Each agency has an Electronic Reading Room where it posts frequently requested records. So you don't have to start from scratch requesting CIA materials relating to Ethel and Julius Rosenberg  or the FBI's file about Muhammad Ali's relationship with the Nation of Islam, because they're already posted. To browse, just search for an agency name and FOIA reading room.

But what if what you want hasn't been posted already? You can submit your own FOIA request. To help you, Emily Willard from the UW's Center for Human Rights wrote How to FOIA: A Guide to Filing Freedom of Information Act Requests (2019).

In Washington, use the Public Records Act, RCW 42.56. For guidance, see Eric M. Stahl & Michael J. Killeen, Washington Open Government Guide, from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. UW users also have online access to WSBA's Public Records Act Deskbook: Washington's Public Disclosure and Open Meetings Laws (2d ed., with 2020 supp.). 

Our subscription to WSBA deskbooks is a site license, so the servers need to recognize you as a UW user. If you aren’t on campus (and most of us aren’t, these days!), use Husky OnNet. Then, on the library’s homepage, look under Selected Databases for Washington State > Deskbooks.

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