Freedom of Information Act
What is the Freedom of Information Act?
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a federal law that was passed in 1966. It ensures government openness and accountability. The FOIA gives a person access to federal agency records. However, agencies are allowed (but not required) to withhold records that fall within nine categories.
What categories of information are exempt under the FOIA?
The FOIA exempts nine categories of information from disclosure:
- Classified records, whose release would "damage" national security.
- Internal agency records that relate to personnel rules and practices and to internal "insider" information, such as law enforcement manuals and computer security codes.
- Agency records that are exempt by law from disclosure.
- Trade secrets, commercial information, and financial information if disclosure would cause competitive harm to a company.
- Material that is normally privileged in civil litigation, including agency memoranda or letters.
- Individual personnel and medical records in order to protect personal privacy.
- Law enforcement records.
- Bank records.
- Oil and gas well information.
What is the procedure for making a FOIA request?
The FOIA requires a person to submit a written request for the release of agency records. After the request is made, the agency must either release the documents promptly or show that they are covered by one of the FOIA exemptions. The agency may charge a reasonable fee for providing the requested documents. However, some individuals or groups may be entitled to reduced fees or fee waivers. Agencies cannot charge media representatives any costs for agency searches of records.
An expedited review is available if a person has an urgent need for the information, such as information that relates to a health or safety issue. Agencies may also grant expedited review in special circumstances. For example, the Department of Justice grants expedited review if a delay might result in the loss of substantial due process rights.
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