Moving Towards A “Proactive” Model For Freedom Of Information

Most freedom of information (“FOI”) statutes are “reactive” in nature.  That is, a person must affirmatively ask the government to disclose a document and the government must then respond.  But there is a growing trend towards a “proactive” FOI model, in which state and local (and federal) governments put their documents online, by posting them on a government website, for example.

Last month I commented positively about the governor’s signing of Executive Order 38, which will provide the public with online access to data concerning the state’s economic development efforts.  I stated in that post that I hoped the order was the beginning of a positive trend. 

It seems that it was.

Today, the CT Mirror reports that the Malloy administration is planning to launch an “online data portal” in February or March of 2014, which would give the public online access to an even broader range of raw data that many state agencies have historically maintained on their own computer databases.  The precise scope and details of the program are still unclear, but the direction in which the administration is moving is quite clear–towards greater transparency and ease-of-access. 

Ben Barnes, who heads the state’s Office of Policy and Management, told the CT Mirror:

Every government agency produces some type of data, much of which is potentially of interest to the public, and an open data portal provides a uniform platform for that data to be published. When data is shared in different places, or not shared at all, the information never gets a chance to be analyzed, aggregated or combined — either by other agencies or private citizens.

We’re doing other people’s work, so they have every right to see the data.

Barnes added that he “agrees with the sentiment to ‘shift the organizational culture to one of disclosure and transparency,'” but noted that the shift “may take time.”

If this data portal actually materializes and works, it will be a very positive development on the FOI front in Connecticut.  I look forward to learning more details about this initiative.


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