ASIS&T 2006 START Conference Manager    

Digital access to government information: To what extent are agencies in compliance with E-FOIA ?

Shannon Oltmann, Howard Rosenbaum, Noriko Hara

ASIS&T Annual Meeting - 2006 (ASIS&T 2006)
Austin, Texas, November 3-9, 2006


Citizen access to government information is thought by many to be a cornerstone of democracy. The Electronic Freedom of Information Act, passed in 1996, established a legal right for people to request and receive government information in digital form. It required agencies subject to the law to respond quickly to requests for digital information and to provide a range of digital information on their web sites. Many commentators agreed that this law was a positive step and would improve citizen access to government information. This paper adopts a social informatics perspective to assess this prevailing view by examining the underlying assumptions about technology on which discourse is based. It then supports this critical assessment with empirical data based on a replication of a 1999 study that found that many agencies were not in compliance with the law or Department of Justice guidelines; our replication, seven years later, concludes that compliance in this regard is improving. It then extends the analysis, investigating agencies' electronic reading rooms, sections of agency web sites where information, mandated by the law, has to be made easily available to site visitors. This analysis finds that many agencies are not in compliance with the law and have reading rooms that are difficult to use. The paper concludes with recommendations to improve the organization and usability of electronic reading rooms.

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