Freedom of Information Act
A popular Government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.”
- James Madison
Enacted in 1966, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has allowed ordinary citizens to access public information from governmental agencies and is based on the principle of “openness in government.” The act makes federal agencies accountable for information disclosure policies and practices.
The information might include such topics as the Henry Kissinger
telephone transcripts of 1973 to 1976, the allegations of government involvement in drug trafficking in Los Angeles, the CIA
creation documents, and the Amelia Earhart
Other documents that were once considered “sensitive” or “classified” have been made available to the public as well.
The federal government and some states also have adopted so-called “sunshine laws” that require governmental bodies, as a matter of general policy, to hold open meetings, announced in advance.
Requests under the FOIA for a copy of an agency’s records must (1) be in writing, (2) specifically cite the Freedom of Information Act, (3) adequately describe the records sought, and (4) indicate the requester's willingness to pay all fees or fees up to a specific amount, or ask for a fee waiver. The request will be sent to that agency’s FOIA Officer.
Upon receipt, the FOIA Officer will direct the request to the appropriate office. The assigned office will respond to the request no later than 20 workdays after the request is received and perfected (that is, all issues regarding fees and the scope of the request are resolved). When it is necessary to forward a request to another office for response, the time limit begins upon receipt by that office. A time extension, not to exceed an additional 10 work days, may be taken in certain circumstances. However, the requester must be notified in writing that an extension is being taken, including the reason(s) for taking the extension and the anticipated date of the FOIA response.
An FOIA response must advise the requester of the records that the agency intends to disclose or to withhold, the exemption(s) authorizing the withholding (including a citation or summary of each exemption), and a strong justification for withholding the record(s). Normally the records to be disclosed will be provided with the response letter. If the records are not provided with the letter, they will be sent as soon as possible thereafter.
There are nine areas of exceptions to those requests. The exemptions protect:
classified matters of national defense or foreign policy,
internal personnel rules and practices,
information specifically exempted by other statutes,
trade secrets, commercial or financial Information,
privileged interagency or intra-agency memoranda or letters,
personal information affecting an individual's privacy,
investigatory records compiled for law enforcement purposes (six subdivisions),
regulation of financial institutions, and
geological and geophysical information concerning wells.
Review of denial
The act provides for court review of agency refusals to furnish identifiable records.
More detailed information and a requester’s guide is available at epic.com.