The government is now giving away your FOIA scoops

The Washington Post

Citing a desire to improve government transparency and grant wider access to government business, government agencies will start publishing records they give to requesters under the Freedom of Information Act.

Seven government agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Defense Department and the Justice Department have begun a six-month pilot of this "release to one is release to all" policy, wherein records requested by nonprofits, journalists or corporations will be available for public view.

What does this mean for investigative reporters digging into government business on behalf of the public? The Washington Post talked to Patrice McDermott, executive director of OpenTheGovernment.org, who said that new policy worried journalists who were concerned they might get scooped. But they ultimately gave the initiative a thumbs-up in the hopes that it would give the public access to more information, McDermott said.

Of course, it has always been possible to scoop other journalists digging through government documents: Enterprising (and sneaky) reporters can simply request FOIA requests filed by other news organizations. But this new policy will eliminate some of the guesswork involved in figuring out what rival publications are up to.

Publishing FOIA responses online for public view isn't totally new, either. As The Washington Post notes, the EPA has been making its responses publicly available since 2013.

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    Benjamin Mullin

    Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism innovation, business practices and ethics.

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