March 13, 2018

At Judiciary Hearing, Harris Highlights Importance of FOIA and Open Government Data

HD Video of Harris’ Questioning

WASHINGTON, D.C. – At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today to examine the Trump Administration’s progress on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris questioned witnesses on whether the high cost of litigation is a barrier to individuals and organizations when agencies are non-compliant with FOIA requests. In her questioning, Harris also highlighted the OpenJustice initiative she introduced as Attorney General of California, which provided open government data on California’s law enforcement agencies in an effort to improve transparency and accountability in the state’s criminal justice system.

“As Attorney General for California, I introduced initiatives to provide greater accountability and transparency to my state’s criminal justice system,” Harris said. “We created an initiative that we named OpenJustice, which was essentially an open data initiative where we provided the public with information on California 1,000 law enforcement agencies and allowed users to do side-by-side comparisons of certain data such as arrest rates, crime statistics, assaults against law enforcement, etcetera. And we made this data available because there was a real desire and need for the public to be able to have access to this information and know exactly what was going on with their government.”

Harris continued, “Agencies can be non-compliant with FOIA requests until there is an administrative appeal or lawsuit. However, only individuals and groups with sufficient resources can use the legal system to actually get access to this information. That means that we are shutting out journalists, activists, and public interest groups who, in many cases, cannot afford to litigate.”

OpenJustice was a first-of-its-kind transparency and data initiative led by the California Department of Justice to help improve community trust in law enforcement and inform public policy. Harris sponsored legislation entitled the OpenJustice Data Act that built on OpneJustice by converting annual reports published by the CA DOJ into digital data sets that were published and available to the public including data about complaints against peace officers, hate crime offenses, and other information related to public safety across California’s communities. These acts were part of several steps Harris took to strengthen the trust between California communities and the law enforcement entrusted to protected them. Harris also directed a 90-day Review of her Division of Law Enforcement’s policies on use of force and implicit bias, convened the state’s law enforcement leaders to share best practices through her 21st Century Policing Working Group, and created the first POST-certified course on Procedural Justice and Implicit Bias in the U.S.