Government Transparency and Data: FOIA Evidence from Law Enforcement Agencies

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Ayse Eldes


Government transparency is the center of vast media coverage and legal debates. Freedom of Information laws facilitate this transparency both at the state and federal level. But few conduct systemic analysis of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) responsiveness, even as some claim responsiveness exhibits various biases. As part of an ongoing research project, we filed FOIA requests to Michigan law enforcement agencies and measured response behavior by tracking the wait time for each response, requested fees, type of initial response, and requests for clarification. Contrary to the requirements of the law, many agencies did not reply to our request. The most common initial responses were extension requests and full responses. Our findings suggest that there is no association between any agency characteristic and its behavior in response to records requests. In short, we find no evidence that using FOIA requests for data collection from law enforcement will lead to bias.

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Social Sciences, Education and Communication