The Freedom of Information Act or FOIA. The FOIA was signed into law by Lyndon B. Johnson on July 4th, 1966 and went into effect in 1967. The law generally provides that any person has the right to request access to federal agency records or information except to the extent the records are protected from disclosure by any of nine exemptions contained in the law or by one of three special law enforcement records exclusions.
There are nine exemption categories that authorize the government agencies to withhold information, they are:
- Classified information for national defense or foreign policy
- Internal personnel rules and practices
- Information that is exempt from other laws
- Trade secrets and confidential business information
- Interagency or intra-agency memoranda or letters that are protected by legal privileges
- Personnel and medical files
- Law enforcement records or information
- Information concerning bank supervision
- Geological and geophysical information
Congress provided special protection under the FOIA for three narrow categories of law enforcement and national security records. The provisions protecting those records are known as “exclusions”.
The first exclusion protects the existence of an ongoing criminal law enforcement investigation when the subject of the investigation is unaware that it is pending and disclosure could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings.
The second exclusion is limited to criminal law enforcement agencies and protects the existence of informant records when the informant’s status has not been officially confirmed.
The third exclusion is limited to the FBI and protects the existence of foreign intelligence or counterintelligence, or international terrorism records when the existence of such records is classified. Records falling within exclusion are not subject to the requirements of the FOIA.
The FOIA only applies to federal agencies and does not give anyone access to records held by Congress, the courts, or by state agencies. Agencies are also not required to do the research for you.
The FOIA is how we are able to do what we do here. Thanks to the FOIA we can work to maintain relationships with agencies so that we can constantly collect the data that makes up our database. We work with a data acquisition team that works diligently every day to collect the data and send it on to our data engineers who make it searchable for all of our clients, both agencies, and vendors. So let’s all be thankful the FOIA makes everything a little bit easier for us.