Yesterday, the Supreme Court struck a blow to government transparency by ruling that states have the right to prohibit out-of-state Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and public records requesters. In response, MuckRock is now looking for in-state partners to help ensure transparency and open access is available to everyone throughout America.
Our site — which makes it easy for anyone to file public records request and share the results with the public — is offering free accounts to up to two users in each of the impacted states, along with the satisfaction of knowing they are making an important contribution to sunshine across America.
Why is this kind of access important? As Justice Antonin Scalia noted in questioning, states have every reason to bar out-of-state requesters: “They don’t want outlanders mucking around in Virginia government."
But citizen-only request requirements do have a range of negative ramifications: Those who are not citizens but who have a vested interest in government actions. For example students and workers who commute in, are denied a basic tool in holding government accountable.
And even those who are citizens often face additional hurdles due to these requirements: Most public records laws state that the requester's identity and reason for the request are irrelevant as far as what should be released and when. Requiring more identifying information encourages discrimination while discouraging casual requesters who may fear reprisal.
In order to continue ensuring broad access to public records while avoiding the above and other problems, MuckRock is looking for citizens willing to co-file with MuckRock requesters in the following states, the seven that currently bar out-of-state filers:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
This continued access to information at a state level is incredibly important for both individuals' rights as well as national-scale investigative news: MuckRock's Drone Census used requests in all 50 states to shed light on how local law enforcement was quietly deploying drones with little oversight, authorization or policy. This investigation would have been impossible without local requests shedding light on information the federal government was unwilling or unable to give.
In fact, one of the big stories — about unauthorized drones in Virginia — comes from the very state where this policy was affirmed.
If you agree to help — which only requires you're willing to let us use your name on requests filed in your state — we'll give you a free MuckRock Pro account, a $40/month value. But the real importance is helping ensure a broad swatch of watchdog monitoring government at all levels across our country.
And if you need to file a request in a state you're not a resident in, register for MuckRock today: No matter where you are or where you're filing, we make it easy.
Michael Morisy is the founder of MuckRock, which was one of Freedom of the Press Foundation's original transparency journalism beneficiaries. He can be reached at [email protected].