NY moves FOIA requests to email

Change in law means cost savings for citizens, agencies and a new age of open government.
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor

Here's a simple idea - Why can't the government communicate with citizens by email? Why can't public records just be emailed off, instead of the time-consuming tasks of digging them up from archives and stuck in snail mail? In New York, a new law allows officials to send public records to citizens with a click of a button, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reports.

"This opens up a new era in terms of the relationship between the public and the government," said Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, who has overseen the administration of freedom-of-information and open-meeting laws in the state for more than 30 years. The measures were passed in New York and most other states in reaction to the Watergate scandal.

Legislators promoted the ease of access the new law promotes.

"We're trying to make it as easy as we can for constituents seeking information from their government — local and state," said Sen. Vincent Leibell, R-Patterson, Putnam County, who sponsored the bill, adding that while government agencies have generally been responsive to FOIL, the new law will "open up a whole new level of access to information."

"When FOIL went into law in 1974, 'high-tech' was a typewriter. E-mail has now become a way of life, and increasingly people obtain information through e-mail," Freeman said. "This law is a sign of the times and it will make life easier for agencies as well as those seeking information."

The law does away with a little trick NY government had used to slow down delivery of documents - a 25 cent-per-page copying fee, far above agencies' actual costs. For large documents that meant citizens could have to pay thousands of dollars.

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