A recent article in the University of Illinois independent student newspaper The Daily Illini, cited an increase in Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the University. Kathy McCarthy, Assistant Director of the FOIA administration, mentioned that with the increasing requests there is an increase “with the amount of work required to respond to them.” Tom Hardy, the Executive Director of University Relations, went into more details stating: “administrators have felt their ‘hair on fire’ while trying to find the right documents in a timely manner.”
According to Illinois’ state FOIA law (the federal law differs), the response period for processing a FOIA request does not begin until a request is received. Requests must be responded to within 7 working days. This timeline puts pressure on administrators, but also promotes transparency based on the premise that “Americans ought to have reasonable access to the immense volume of data their federal government exudes” as one Oregon news website mentions.
The article in The Daily Illini, also mentions that the majority of FOIA requests to the University are submitted by private citizens and commercial agencies, and not by the media as commonly thought. This means that any person with an internet connection can publicize information he/she collects from a FOIA requests. This tests the relevance of the long-standing question of who or what constitutes the media under FOIA now that news is produced by an increasing amount of independents websites, blogs, and other entities (public and non-public).
The increased use of FOIA requests amplifies the demand for technology to handle FOIA requests no matter who initiates these requests. AINS’ FOIAXpress (PDF) is a solution to this problem.