There's a Wired article up now about a project by the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) to develop a FOIA request tool to streamline the process, provide resources, and eventually allow online communities to support requests to lend them greater political weight.  This is exactly the kind of thing that the internet exists for, and breaks new ground in citizen involvement in government affairs.  

The tool is called the FOIA Machine, and at the moment it's just an alpha build.  Among the features reported in the article are an updatable list of contacts for each institution to know whom to talk to in search of a particular set of documents, how to craft requests for the best results, a database of various institutional rules that each agency has for these sorts of requests, and ultimately the creators plan to allow for requests to be made public so that large numbers of people can sign on to them.  Presumably that would also possibly allow people to pool money to pay any fees involved, so that's a major point of civic empowerment.

The article doesn't go into a lot of detail, and the FOIA Machine site isn't very informative yet either, but the possibilities are not hard to imagine: A website where a person can just access a user-friendly interface and click through menus to find agencies, contacts, documents, and fill out requests with instructions and (hopefully) some kind of tutorials if it gets complicated.  Then they could make the request public  to seek funding support like on Kickstarter, which could allow communities to build around the request, lending them both weight of numbers and a financial resource base.  Once they reach some kind of goal, they could send it in, and then from there, the progress of the request could be tracked, whether by the participants themselves or possibly by everyone if they make it all public.

That level of streamlined process and functionality is probably a ways away, but it's the obvious implication of the concept.  This is what information technology is all about: Once it grows up past the stage of being just another venue for entertainment or narcissistic jaw-flapping about the boring details of your life, it can be a source of real-world consequences.  We already saw that in the Middle East with the Arab Spring and its ongoing consequences, so people who might find this tool useful should be thinking ahead and exercising their imaginations to figure out ways they can use it that would be creative, unanticipated, and highly effective beyond the obvious.

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