The federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), enacted in 1966, was the first law that gave Americans the right to access the records of federal agencies. What is the federal FOIA and why is it important?
The FOIA is often described as the law that allows citizens to know what’s happening with their government agencies. Any person may request access to records, including memos, reports, emails, and video/audio files. However, there are exemptions that can be used to protect specific information, including exemptions involving law enforcement, national security, and personal privacy.
First, research to see if the information you seek is already publicly available. Research via the FOIA.gov website, or visit the agency’s website. If the information is not made available, submit a FOIA request to the agency’s FOIA Office. The request only needs to be in writing, and it must describe the records you are seeking sufficiently for the agency to be able to locate records that are responsive to your request. Most agencies accept email or website requests, or a fax. No specific form is required, and most agencies ask for your contact information.
There is no initial fee to submit a FOIA request, but there may be charges in certain cases. The federal agency may charge to make copies or search for records, for example. If the agency estimates the fees will exceed $25, it will notify you of the estimate and offer you an opportunity to narrow your request, according to the FOIA website.
You may file an administrative appeal if you’re not happy with the agency’s initial response to your request. The Office of Government Services offers mediation services to resolve disputes between FOIA requesters and agencies as an alternative to litigation. If you need legal advice or assistance with the appeal process, contact our office at 586-726-1000 or visit our website.