Senator Tester Introduces the Public Online Information Act

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Today, Senator Jon Tester introduced legislation that would revolutionize how the public gains access to government information. The Public Online Information Act (POIA) [PDF] requires all government-held information that is already required to be publicly available to be posted online, subject to common-sense exceptions. Representative Steve Israel (NY-02) introduced companion legislation (HR 4858) in the House of Representatives in March.

POIA addresses the problem that much government information is hard to find and difficult to use. It ensures that government information from across all executive branch agencies will be available to everyone with a few keystrokes on a computer. It also brings together all three branches of government to figure out how to best make information available to the public.

In March, a coalition of organizations cheered POIA on, writing “Our vital public information can enhance accountability, spur commerce, and empower citizenship, but only if we create and require meaningful digital access to it.” Senator Tester is working to do just that.

For more information on POIA, visit http://thePOIA.org. Sunlight’s press release is here; Senator Tester’s press release is here. Also, check out this video on POIA.

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  • For those interested, here’s the differences between the House and Senate versions.

    The Senate version:

    – Includes within the definition of “records”, contracts for those acting as agents of the government and the records of government contractors.
    – In cases where there could be an exception to the publication of all public records, standardizes the evidentiary threshold by requiring the agency to demonstrate that there is “clear and convincing evidence” of the harm of disclosure significantly outweighing the public interest of transparency in order to not publish a record on the Internet.
    – Insure that information posted online using state-of-the-art technology is also accessible through widely used technology such as that which would be found in public libraries in rural and frontier areas.
    – Specified diversity of Advisory Committee membership to further include non-profit organizations as well as expertise in relevant subject areas.
    – Requires that no more than 2 of the 3 members chosen by the Senate’s Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, and the House’s Committee on Oversight and Government Reform are from the party in the majority of the Senate at the time they are appointed (to maintain a political balance).