Information, please - Page 3

The Bay Area leads the revolution in information sharing. So why is it still so hard to get basic public records in San Francisco?

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IMAGE VIA CREATIVE COMMONS

"As newspaper jobs were being cut, there was less governmental accountability reporting," Morisy told us. So he teamed up with a business partner and fashioned a web-based tool that generates and files information requests based on what users are curious about. "The one thing I like to tell people is that you have this right. But it's like a muscle — if you don't use it, it gets weaker," Morisy said. "And I do think a lot of the pushback on public records laws ... is because people aren't fighting as much as they used to, because newsrooms don't have the budgets to sue."

After studying open-records laws in all 50 states to figure out how best to craft a legally binding request, Muck Rock set up customized infrastructure with an online submission system that charges users $20 per five requests. "One of our users requested a bunch of documents regarding comic books in the 1950s. The FBI had a huge file on comic book artists," he noted.

Even as this start-up tries to rekindle interest in public records, Sunshine is coming under attack across the country. "Cost is usually the big bogeyman that they try and trot out," Morisy explained — but he sees transparency as the best safeguard against political corruption. "So it costs $200 to respond to a public records request," he said. "That's so much cheaper than having somebody embezzle $200,000."

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