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Description of the Freedom of Information Act

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is found in Title 5, United States Code (USC) 552.

General Information:

  • The law was enacted in 1966 and has been amended several times since.
  • The Act creates a statutory right – enforceable in court – of access to federal agency records within the executive branch, allowing any person (see “Who May Make a Request” below) to seek information about an event, an organization, a company, a group, or another person either living or deceased.
  • FOIA applies to records created by federal agencies and does not cover records held by Congress, the courts, or state and local government agencies.  Each state has its own public access laws that should be consulted for access to state and local records.
  • The main purpose of the law is to ensure an informed citizenry and provide a check against corruption by holding the government accountable (and the U.S. Supreme Court has emphasized that FOIA applies to official information shedding light on an agency’s performance of statutory duties.)
  • Records must be disclosed unless they are specifically excluded from the Act or unless they fall under one of the Act’s exemptions, which generally provide a means for non-disclosure and are usually discretionary, not mandatory.

Who May Make a Request Under the Law

  • “Any person” or any attorney or other representative on behalf of any person may make a FOIA request  as follows:
  • “Any person” means any private individual, including a foreign citizen, partnership, corporation, association, state or state agency or foreign government (except its intelligence agencies).
  • “Any person” excludes a fugitive from justice or anyone acting on behalf of the fugitive – including a foreign government or international organization – whether or not the person is working directly or through a representative.             


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