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Who keeps track of the algorithms used to automate government decisions? We do.

That's a collective "we," folks. Today MuckRock released two collections for everyone interested in how governments use Artificial Intelligence and algorithms to make decisions big and small — from identifying a criminal suspect with facial recognition to changing up elementary school bus routes.

MuckRock and the Rutgers Institute for Information Policy & Law (RIIPL) have begun a collection of algorithms used in communities across the country to automate government decision-making.

In the database you'll find contracts, reports, privacy policies, and more from communities where this automation is already underway. We have also started a collection of vision statements and policy guides from communities laying the groundwork for future "smart city" status.

These collections can help evaluate if, or when, automating government decisions actually meets its objectives, including saving money, reducing bias and increasing safety. This is just a start. We hope you will help us use and grow this resource. Find our guide and databases here, and as always reach back with questions or examples of how this has contributed to your work.  

A letter from the Editor:

Last week we announced that Outlier and MuckRock had joined forces and that together we plan to build the kind of responsive, transparent and redistributive news organization we know communities all over the country are hungry to have. 

Over the last few months, our teams have been learning a lot about each other and the work we've done. I have been a MuckRock user for a long time but not an active member of this incredible community. I am asking for your trust and input as this new organization gets to work.  

I'm a very good reporter and editor, but I am no records expert. I filed my first ever FOIA request just about five years ago. Until then I had been grateful only in the abstract for these protections. I was a public radio reporter who didn’t do much watchdog reporting and no investigative work.

When I started building Outlier, the kind of information I needed changed. Detroiters face enormous information gaps, and the need is for high-value information above news-as-entertainment. The data Detroiters needed was no longer just a phone call away or at the other end of a friendly conversation. I can't remember how I learned about MuckRock but I did. I filed my first ever request through MuckRock and have been a fan ever since.

It should be easy to ask about decisions our governments make on our behalf and with our money but oftentimes it just isn’t. The formality of the FOIA process creates important protections but can also just wear us down or trip us up. 

I think the way it feels to try and wrestle information we need from an agency that doesn't want to give it to us is probably very similar to how people can feel about news organizations. Our dedication to getting people information they want and deserve is why MuckRock and Outlier make sense together and why our visions have always been much bigger than just FOIA and texting. 

Since that first FOIA request, we have been supporters of each other’s efforts. But this is an urgent time for those of us that think transparency and accountability are values worth defending. We want to pool our efforts so we can equip more people and more communities faster. 

With our increased capacity you can expect more enterprise reporting from us. Over the next few weeks and months, the look of our site will change as will the kind of pieces we publish. Our investigative reporting will focus on a few key areas: utilities, policing, incarceration, institutionalization and government surveillance. 

We will also be re-organizing our ten-year deep catalog of data and documents into easy-to -navigate guides on pressing issues. These will likely be similar to
the algorithm guide released today by reporter Beryl Lipton. We are retooling our newsletter, our partnership strategy, our name, and our branding, and we all welcome your input.

What has not and will not change is our commitment to being of service to our users. We are eager to help navigate requests or assist in reporting anytime and all the time. We believe in collaboration over competition. The work of our users comes first and we will fill in the gaps. Reach out anytime. We are very much in this together.

- Sarah Alvarez 

Don't forget! We still want to give you $$ for your FOIA ideas!

We'd like to send you $1000 in prizes, including $500 in cash and MuckRock swag bags (magical unredacting mug, anyone?)!

If you have an idea for a public records request that could unlock important stories at the state, local or federal level, submit them here. Thanks to Government Attic for sponsoring.

MuckRock is user-driven and advertising-free. Your contribution matters.
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