What does the British Government know?

By Mark O’Neill

In the United States, the Freedom of Information Act has been around since the 1960’s but in Great Britain it has only been in force since 2000. Britain is quite a secretive country by nature with its Official Secrets Act and I think Brits are still finding it a novel concept to be able to just ask for something, instead of being quoted the rule book.

An interesting website called “What Do They Know?” has been set up to co-ordinate FOI requests in the UK. The idea is that if you want to make a FOI request – and you don’t mind that request being public – then you can make it through this website. The webmaster will make sure that your request reaches the proper government department and the request will also be posted to the site with a status on it such as “pending”, “successful”, “unsuccessful”, whatever.

Then when the information comes from the department in question, the response is also posted to the site, next to the original request. The idea is that if someone else is also looking for the same information, they can check the site. They can also get in touch with the requester and offer to team up on projects, lawsuits and much more.

It goes without saying that if you want to make private requests or if you don’t want your name publicised then this site is not suitable. But if you don’t mind your request being made public or if you’re looking for people who may share your cause then you can do it through “What Do They Know”. Not only will your request get to the right government bureaucrat but someone scanning the site may see your request and think “wow, they’re requesting the same stuff as me, let’s team up!”.

Is there an equivalent site to this in the United States for US Freedom of Information requests? It sounds like a really great idea to me.

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