Hacking the Freedom of Information Act

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Description You hack computers, I hack the law. The world needs it to be very easy to make legal requests for government information through the Freedom of Information Act. It's not! Help!

More detail and lots of design ideas in the full description.

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Tags Open Data
Located at village Tactical Tech
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      • HACKING THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT***

Information is power, so transparency and privacy are on the same spectrum. Transparency is for governments and corporations, to limit their power. And privacy is for the individual, to protect them. Privacy is reactive, but transparency is pro-active, so we should take the initiative and hack transparency law and go on the offensive.

Using legal government information access regimes, you can find out what has been decided on your behalf and why. Lets help people hack the law to reclaim power from the state, and make going on the offensive easier for everyone.

Because at the moment, transparency battles are hard. Navigating the bureaucracy takes a long time, a lot of effort and a lot of expertise to get the information you want. Mostly it's only journalists using this method, but the law *should* be open for *everyone* to use, it’s just that it is very complicated.

So most people start out with a burning question and in the course of trying to exercise their democratic rights, they give up. So I want to help guide them through the process.

And even if you win, and get the information you wanted it's hard to share it around, compare notes and actually build up a *complete and unredacted* picture of how government works. Because that is the end-game. The definitive archive of everything government didn't want to tell you. Once you've asked for something once, you never have to ask again, it's in the public forever. It could be police killings 2013-2015, surveillance technology contracts or secret reports and studies on almost anything.

This project is about fixing a problem and achieving a goal. Making information requests needs to be easier, the information needs to be more useful so we give people more power over government.

      • THE DESIGN***

The two main strands are in improving and adapting the information request *process* and categorising the information that comes back. I'm working at the Centre for Investigative Journalism in the UK and can do the legal bits, but need some help on the coding bits.

For the processing side, it makes sense to me to build on something that already exists. The site Alavatelli is Open Source does a lot of this already. They are the best there is right now for the processing of requests.

They need a bit of extra categorisation to display guidance relevant to your request. For example, if you are requesting financial information it will tell you one thing, and if you're requesting national security material it will tell you another.

Then the task is to build a database to store all the material, categorising by authoring organisation, date, type of document and subject. The model data here is 1.5gb of text and pdf documents I have already gathered.

The final step is to link the two systems together, so you can generate requests for the gaps in the dataset. You have crime statistics for 2009-2013 only? No problem! Auto-generate a request to bring the stats up to date.

Obviously it's totally FLOSS.

That is the plan. Want to help? I can do legal guidance for the requests, and I can understand coder talk, even if I can't do it myself. And you help (or know someone who can help) build the digital infrastructure.

Contact me on sid@tcij.org or come visit the Tactical Tech Camp and ask around.

      • RESOURCES***

Take a look at the Alavatelli site. http://alaveteli.org/docs/

An example of a marked up document on Document Cloud: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2194302-cbc-public-version-redactions-last-reviewed.html

Dig into my folder of Information Request Guides here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/iwvd3rjrzl5gzj7/AADTMaWsTbvpRgujPbt5xLaGa?dl=0

And (very slowly) I’m uploading some design documents and model data here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/1wj06qym80mcvcn/AAAyh3UL_od6JK9Ig3w-5gwBa?dl=0

Apologies if using dropbox is a faux pas….