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To make government accountable, people have to know the facts. But prying secrets out of Washington is hard. FOIA Machine can help.
To make government accountable, people have to know the facts. But prying secrets out of Washington is hard. FOIA Machine can help.
2,071 backers pledged $53,654 to help bring this project to life.

FOIA Machine joins MuckRock to make government more open for everyone

We started FOIA Machine hoping it could help people create, track and share open records requests. We wanted to hold government accountable and make it more transparent.

More than 2,000 of you joined us in that mission by contributing to this Kickstarter. The John S. Knight Foundation and Reynolds Journalism Institute provided additional financial support and The Center for Investigative Reporting hosted, helped guide and supported the project in various capacities. Nearly 1,800 of you became active users and hundreds of you track your requests on a weekly basis. We’ve partnered with open government groups like the National Freedom of Information Coalition, and journalists from more than 50 news organizations, including USA Today, New York Public Radio and The Marshall Project, have used FOIA Machine.

Now, with fake news seemingly everywhere and government secrecy becoming the norm, public records are more important than ever. To help, we’re pleased to share that FOIA Machine is joining MuckRock. The two sites will continue to operate independently to offer easy, accessible tools to help reporters, researchers, and the general public file, track, and share their public records requests.

By working together all users benefit. FOIA Machine and MuckRock will share the same codebase, as MuckRock goes open source. As improvements are made to one tool they will more easily be developed for the other. The two sites will also share a rich database of agencies, jurisdictions, and exemptions.

FOIA Machine will remain free to let users manually track their own requests, while MuckRock will continue to offer a “full service” experience that submits the requests directly to the agency, automatically follows up, and conveniently digitizes any responsive documents.

FOIA Machine's Coulter Jones, Djordje Padejski and Shane Shifflett will join MuckRock's advisory board and help both tools continue in their joint mission of making government more transparent and our democracy more informed.

As journalists, researchers, and ordinary citizens continue to fight for government records at all levels, we're hoping that this transition will give users of both sites a powerful new tool for ensuring transparency at all levels of government.

Over the next few weeks, current users of FOIA Machine will receive an email detailing how they can have their accounts transitioned over to the new site. If you're eager to go ahead and poke around, you can try out the beta of the new FOIA Machine here (you can use either your existing MuckRock credentials or create a new account).

And finally, if you care about access to public records and government transparency, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to MuckRock. Your support means that thousands of journalists, researchers, activists, and ordinary citizens will have a better resource for holding government to account.

We’re proud of our work and grateful for all the support. We hope you’ll continue to use FOIA Machine and help us as we try to improve the public records process.

- The FOIA Machine Team

Frequently Asked Questions

Is FOIA Machine still free?

Yes, FOIA Machine is still 100 percent free to use and still open source. The FOIA Machine Classic source code is here, and the new FOIA Machine codebase is here, now part of the MuckRock source code.

Will my current FOIA Machine requests be available on the new platform?

Yes, but not quite yet. The updated FOIA Machine is currently in an open beta. Over the next few weeks, we'll port over existing user accounts so that you can log in to the new site. By the end of the year, we'll migrate all of your requests over to the new platform as well.

Is the original version of FOIA Machine still available?

The current version of FOIA Machine is still up and running and will be until March 31, 2017. At that point, we'll have migrated all users and requests over, and we plan to switch everything over to the updated platform. In the meantime, we're looking for feedback, bug reports, feature requests, and contributors, so please get in touch by emailing us at info@foiamachine.org.

The original FOIA Machine source code will remain available to those interested in self-hosting it.

I have a question not answered here.

Contact us at info@foiamachine.org and we'll do our best to answer it.

FOIA Machine is up and running. Now our next opportunity.

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In 2013, you helped us kickstart FOIA Machine, which officially launched in June 2014. Because of you: 

  • FOIAMachine.org has more than 1,800 active accounts and hundreds of them file and track their public records requests on a daily basis. 
  • Users include journalists from more than 50 news organizations, including USA Today, New York Public Radio, The Wall Street Journal and The Marshall Project. 
  • In August this year, we teamed up with the National Freedom of Information Coalition to help people file and track requests through select NFOIC state and regional member web sites. FOIA Machine is now embedded on 26 different NFOIC member coalition sites, such as the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition
  • FOIA Machine's database has grown to include more than 1,500 contacts at 1,400 state, local and federal agencies. 
  • Our source code is open source, available for users to utilize and contribute to.

Now we’d like to ask you to back our newest undertaking: Reveal. Our new national public radio show and podcast brings top investigative reporting to millions of people every week. The stories we tell, out of CIR’s newsroom and our partner news organizations around the world, are often the result of weeks, months, sometimes even years of prying information out of government sources. If FOIA Machine is the first step in the investigative process, Reveal is the final step, bringing you compelling stories that actually make a difference in the world.

Produced by CIR and PRX, the people who bring you Radiotopia, Reveal is dedicated to giving everyone, everywhere, information and news that matters to them and affects their communities. Right now, we’re a monthly hour long show. You may have heard us on one of nearly 300 public radio stations around the country, or maybe you’ve listened to our podcast. In January, we’re going weekly, to bring you even more reporting that holds the powerful accountable.

And to pull off this weekly hour long show, we need your support. Investigative reporting is expensive and time consuming. That’s why few media organizations can afford to do it these days. By supporting our campaign, you will fund freelance and partner productions to help us bring reporting to the airwaves from diverse locations and perspectives. Your backing will lead to coverage that we can’t – and shouldn’t – do alone, stories deeply rooted in communities across the nation and around the world. The result will be Reveal episodes that deepen your understanding of vital issues and put pressure on decision-makers to confront otherwise hidden problems.

We couldn’t have launched FOIA Machine without your support, and we hope you will join us in supporting Reveal. Check out the new campaign here.

Thank you!

- Your friends at CIR

Meet the panelists for Wednesday's event

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FOIA Machine's Open Beta Launch is just a few days away, but our work is far from over.

We're ready to showcase FOIA Machine's features during Wednesday's event at the Mother Jones newsroom. We are also excited to hear from you and our panelists during the discussion on open records policies and best practices. Our panelists have reported on and fought for open records at various levels of government. They include:

Although registration is currently full, you can sign up to be on the waitlist and will be notified if space opens up. We are trying to accommodate as many people as we can.

Can't come? Three ways on how you can be involved

1. Fill out this form on "How can we improve the FOIA process?" The Center for Investigative Reporting is collecting responses to share with the newly-formed FOIA Modernization Advisory Committee. CIR reporter Andrew Becker will serve on the committee, whose purpose is to assess how the Federal Freedom of Information Act can be improved. Becker wants to hear more from frequent FOIA users. CIR has a good description of Becker's role and the committee's purpose.

2. Follow along online. Unfortunately, we will not be recording this event, but we will post about it afterwards. You can follow along with the hashtag #FOIAMachine, which we will be using to capture the conversation. You can also send in questions by tweeting to us directly at @FOIAMachine.

3. Help with our open-sourced contacts database. Users with accounts on foiamachine.org can contribute to our agency contacts. The user-generated database will show the best contact for each local government. States or other groups may keep a list of generic contacts for open records requests. Often, however, the best person to send a request to is learned after a request is sent and smaller agencies or governments may not be listed. Collectively, we can learn from each other and write better public records requests.

This is just the beginning of our Open Beta. At the event folks can sign up and use FOIA Machine while developers continue to build towards a full release. Our work isn't finished. We will be hosting more events in more states and will continue improving the platform.

Thank you for your support.

FOIA Machine Open Beta Launch Event in San Francisco

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The FOIA Machine team has been hard at work and is excited to show off the latest updates to the platform.

We will release the Open Beta during a launch event Wednesday, June 25 hosted by Mother Jones at their downtown San Francisco newsroom. This will be the first of at least five events in five different states as promised as part of our Kickstarter stretch goals.

Improving access to public records

The FOIA Machine team will be on hand to demo the site, help users activate accounts and explain how you can get involved with the project. We’ll show users how they can access open records officers’ contact information, state statutes and other vital data in FOIA Machine. The event will be more than that, however. We are planning an open discussion on how right to access laws could be improved and how we as citizens can better utilize existing laws when agencies try to stonewall access to information. 

The FOIA Machine team, along with the host Mother Jones and partner The Center for Investigative Reporting, are very interested in citizens’ right to access. We look forward to a lively discussion on these topics. Journalists and First Amendment advocates, with decades of experience in dealing with open records laws, will participate in a roundtable discussion on right to access. The focus will center on how we can better use existing laws and how we can improve upon the policies and laws that currently exist. We will also take questions from the audience and incorporate questions from people on Twitter and Facebook. We will use the hashtag #FOIAMachine so we can capture the conversation. Feel free to join in even if you can't make the event.

The event is free and will include complimentary food and beverages. Space is limited; please pre-register if you plan on attending.

We look forward to continuing an open discussion of improving open records access, which has been the core of this project from the beginning. More details on the panelists will be posted in the coming days.

Event details

Date: Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Time: Doors open at 6 p.m. Program begins at 7 p.m.

Location: Mother Jones office, 222 Sutter Street, Suite 600, San Francisco (Nearest intersection: Sutter and Kearny)

Link to register: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/foia-machine-launch-party-hosted-by-mother-jones-tickets-11917119425

"Notes" feature added and beta invitations opened up

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It's been a busy month since the Investigative Reporters and Editors Computer-Assisted Reporting Conference in Baltimore. Thank you to everyone who introduced themselves and gave us such valuable feedback. The FOIA Machine team has synthesized that feedback and worked to release new features.

We're happy to announce several updates:

Beta invitations sent

If you signed up at foiamachine.org you should have received an e-mail inviting you to create an account. Invitations have gone out to all beta users. In short, FOIA Machine is open for business to anyone interested in using the beta version. In practice, we're sticking with an invitation-only system for accounts for the next several months. We're confident about adding more users, but want to ensure the most stable system. An invitation-only system gives us the best chance to monitor how things are working.

If you didn't receive an invitation or your activation key has expired, let us know and we'll send another invitation. We know some invitations may have been lost in spam folders. To request another invitation send an e-mail to info@foiamachine.org.

Feel free to share your experiences with friends and colleagues. They can sign up for accounts by going to the website or e-mailing info@foiamachine.org. We will add new users every week.

Use notes to keep information on your FOIAs

Among the improvements to FOIA Machine is the "Notes" feature. This allows users to add notes to any of their requests. Users can keep track of any information not already captured by the system by writing a note. Notes are visible to anyone who has access to the request. It's a great way to share information among colleagues with whom you're working on projects.

To create a note, navigate to the "Request Details" page of any open records request. At the bottom of that page, below the request and any e-mail correspondence, click on the button "Add note."

This will open up the note field. Users can add a title to the note and any relevant information. Users can also upload attachments to any note by clicking on the "Upload Attachment" button.

User surveys

The FOIA Machine team is interested in your feedback. If you've created an account you will be receiving a survey from us by e-mail. We appreciate you taking the time to fill out the survey. It's incredibly valuable for us to know how our users are interacting with the platform.

Thank you for your help as we continue to build this platform.