Government offices and agencies have been providing public records to anyone that requests them since 1967. That was the year that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) became law and ushered in a new era of government transparency.
Since 1967, anyone can fill out a FOIA request and the government would be responsible for responding to it. That usually means that a government employee would review the request, track down the information that is being requested, print out the information, and provide it to the requester.
A lot has changed since 1967, especially when it comes to searching for, storing, and sharing information. Back in 2006 there was not a single person that owned an iPhone. That’s because they were not invented until the following year. Nowadays, it’s really hard to find someone that doesn’t have a smartphone. It’s time to modernize the entire process that handles government records.
There are currently massive warehouses that the federal and local government maintains because they have a duty to keep records and make them available to the general public. Why not switch to entirely digital formats? Replace those warehouses with datacenters.
To make this work, the change really needs to happen throughout the entire process. Government records need to be entered digitally whenever possible. Minutes from meetings, budgets, contracts all need to be in electronic formats. When the information is only available in physical format, it should be digitally scanned and stored.
Of course one of the major issues with moving to digital formats is security. The good news is that the only reason you really need security is to protect the information that you have from being changed. There really isn’t a big problem with someone stealing the information since it’s supposed to be available to the general public anyway.
Moving to digital would massively reduce the cost of maintaining and responding to public records requests. Just imagine, you could search a database that contained every single request that anyone had ever made for information from the government. If no one had made the specific request that you were planning on making, you could then file the request. Once you get the information that you wanted, anyone else that makes the same request in the future can get the same information instantly.
Having access to government records is a great thing. It could be even better if they were available digitally.