Last April, the Department of Justice unveiled an Open Government Plan that vowed to improve public access to FOIA materials.
To accomplish that, a new plan focuses on making FOIA materials searchable, mimicking “commercial search engines that are already used by millions of people every day.” Think: Google.
Ensuring that “web searches effectively locate proactive disclosures,” the plan’s stated goal, could stand to reduce a lot of manpower required to collect data on both the agency and citizen side of the equation.
Over at the Sunlight Foundation, database and content management expert Tom Lee gets maps a great outline of how the DOJ plans to do it:
They’re planning to use metadata standards — specifically Dublin Core. Like a lot of people who’ve worked as web programmers, I get a bit squeamish around Semantic Web technologies. When this stuff works, it’s basically magic…there’s no question that this technology is designed for just this sort of use. I have my doubts about the utility of the proposed new “FOIA” metadata tag for ordinary users, but it could be tremendously handy for those working on FOIA oversight.
The wisdom of this particular technical plan will likely be decided by the document workflows themselves: if documents are being published by their authors with tools that can’t be made to insist upon metadata, it’s unlikely that this strategy will do anyone much good.
But I suppose the people at the Department of Justice know a thing or two about getting people to comply with rules.