FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) requests can be an important element of legal research when you need to gather information from state or local governments in New York that is not freely available from their websites. (The federal equivalent of New York’s FOIL law is FOIA, the Freedom of Information Act.) Jorge Fitz-Gibbon’s article, “Citizen FOIL Project: Hit or Miss in Quest for Records” looks at the lack of compliance with FOIL requests by state and local governments in New York.
The Journal News / Lohud.com joined with three private citizens to track their experiences from the beginning of a FOIL request, where the citizen learns how to make the request, to the outcome of the request. Of the three participants, “two either received no records or incomplete records and the third received documents months later.” Emily Shaw, a senior analyst at the Sunlight Foundation, discussed the challenges that private citizens face when filing FOIL requests.
Journalists speak to each one another, educate one another about the best methods to get the documents they want…. Regular people are kind of left to whatever information agencies put out about the process, which is often quite minimal and sometimes inaccurate.
Fitz-Gibbon also notes recent attempts to update New York’s FOIL law, which were vetoed by Governor Cuomo. For the text of New York’s FOIL law and a listing of major and minor FOIL cases, see New York’s Committee on Open Government. The Committee “oversees and advises the government, public, and news media on Freedom of Information, Open Meetings, and Personal Privacy Protection Laws.”