Making Public Information Available Online: Rep. Israel Introduces the Public Online Information Act

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Today, Representative Steve Israel introduced the Public Online Information Act, which if enacted would free a vast treasure trove of government information. All too often, information that the law requires be publicly available is hidden behind stone walls and paper barriers. POIA tears down these walls by:

  • Requiring Executive Branch agencies to publish publicly available information on the Internet in a timely fashion and in user-friendly formats.
  • Creating a multi-branch advisory committee to develop government-wide Internet publication guidelines.

This 24-page legislation has many details, which are nicely summarized in a 1-page description of the bill, a plain language version of the legislation, and in this video. In essence, POIA requires the Executive Branch to follow commonsense rules in making public information available online, and encourages all three branches to work together with the public to develop online disclosure best practices.

My colleague Bill Allison blogs about some of the information that POIA will make available online and why doing so is important, and Clay Johnson, the head of Sunlight Labs, breaks down why POIA is important to the technology community.

POIA is the result of a lot of effort from many people. Representative Israel’s staff have been working on this legislation for months, with assistance from Sunlight and others. Those efforts have paid off, as a coalition of more than 25 organizations today is calling for Congress to hold hearings on POIA.

We at Sunlight have long believed that for information to be truly publicly available, it should also be online — our reform agenda lists as one of its principles “public means online.” The idea for this legislation comes directly from a panel discussion at the Personal Democracy Forum conference in 2009 where Andrew Rasiej (co-founded of PDF and a senior technology advisor to Sunlight) asked Rep. Israel about turning this idea into legislation.

Full resources on the Public Online Information Act are available at ThePOIA.org. Also, follow the conversation on Twitter at #thePOIA – you can use the short link http://bit.ly/thePOIA as well.

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  • This is legislation that is important to save the Democracy. We shouldn’t have to wait until some group files request under the Freedom of Information Act to find out what Congress and the Executive branch are doing.