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Learn About the Freedom of Information Act

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

  • The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), enacted in 1966, generally provides any person with the statutory right, enforceable in court, to obtain access to Government information in executive branch agency records. This right to access is limited when such information is protected from disclosure by one of FOIA's nine statutory exemptions. (See “Who May Make a Request” below.)
  • 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.

General Information:

Who May Make a FOIA Request?

Generally “any person” regardless of citizenship.
“Any person” means any private individual, including a foreign citizen, partnership, corporation, association, university, business, and state, local, or foreign governments.

  • “Any person” includes an attorney or other representative seeking records on behalf of any person. 
  • “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. 
  • “Any person” excludes foreign governments requesting information from intelligence agencies. 

 

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