The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), outlined in Title 5 of the United States Code, Section 552, as amended in 2007, was enacted in 1966 and became law on July 4, 1967.
Under FOIA any person has the right to request public access to federal agency records or information. The agency must release the records upon receiving a written request unless the records fall within the nine exemptions and three exclusions outlined in the Act. This right of access is enforceable in court.
- Classified national defense and foreign relations information;
- Internal agency rules and practices;
- Information that is prohibited from disclosure by another federal law;
- Trade secrets and other confidential business information;
- Inter-agency or intra-agency communications that are protected by legal privileges;
- Information involving matters of personal privacy;
- Certain types of information compiled for law enforcement purposes;
- Information relating to the supervision of financial institutions; and
- Geological information on wells.
The three exclusions pertain to especially sensitive law enforcement and national security matters. Even if the information may be withheld under FOIA, the Commission still may disclose it as a matter of administrative discretion under some circumstances. However, the Commission is not legally obligated to do so.
FOIA does not provide a right of access to the following records:
- Records held by Congress;
- The Federal courts;
- State or local government agencies; and
- Private businesses, organizations or individuals.
Contact state authorities for further information regarding their own laws governing public access to state and local government records.