The Freedom of Information Act (Title 5, Section 552 of the United States Code) was enacted in 1966 and provides that any person has the right to request access to federal agency records or information. The FOIA applies to documents held by agencies in the executive branch of the federal government. It defines an agency as the agencies, offices and departments of the Executive branch of the federal government such as the Defense Department, the Office of Management and Budget, and the National Security Council. The independent federal regulatory agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission or the Environmental Protection Agency. Federal government-controlled corporations such as the U.S. Postal Service, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Smithsonian Institution, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) and others. Additional independent federal regulatory agencies are the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Federal Communications Commission. However, it does not apply to all federal entities. Congress, the Federal Courts, and the Executive Office staff such as the White House Chief of Staff and others whose sole function is to advise and assist the president are exempted.

Additionally, some records are protected by the nine exclusions in the FOIA. They are:

(1) National Security- which usually includes information on military plans, weapons, scientific knowledge and data that relates to national security, and CIA records. (2) Internal Agency Rules- information related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of the agency (3) Governed by other statutes- information that is specifically exempted from disclosure by another statute. Laws have been passed making personal tax data, CIA structure, charges of employment discrimination, identifiable census data and other types of information confidential. (4) Business Information- trade secrets, commercial or financial information, confidential information, and information obtained from a person. (5) Internal Government Memos- these are interagency or intra-agency memos or letters that concern confidential communications between an attorney and a client, or information compiled in preparation for a trial. Materials involving advice on recommendations or opinions which are part of the process of government decision-making. (6) Private Matters- personnel files, medical files, and other files that would lead to an invasion of personal privacy if released, are exempted (7) Law Enforcement Investigations- any data that is compiled for law enforcement purposes, if releasing it would interfere with enforcement proceedings, deprive a person of the right to a fair trial or an impartial jury, constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, or disclose the identity of a confidential source such as a state, local or foreign agency, a private institution which had provided information on a confidential basis, disclose investigative techniques or legal procedures, or endanger the life or physical safety of an individual (8) Regulation Of Financial Institutions- this exemption pertains to records related to the examination, operation or condition of certain financial institutions which are subject to federal regulation. (9) Oil Wells- geological and geophysical information concerning oil well locations. Examples include maps or charts, and files belonging to the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management and the Department of Energy's Federal Power Commission. Oil well information is also protected by Exemption 4.
These exceptions are not mandatory. An agency still has the discretion to release any documents to the requester even after it has established that the information falls into one or more of the exemption categories. Information on making requests can be found in Making an FOIA Request put out by Congress or by contacting the specific agency to find out their procedures and fees. An interesting note is that even though Exemption 7 makes almost all FBI files exempt, with the passing of the Privacy Act of 1974 it is now possible to request those files. The FBI has even gone as far as scanning some they deem as pertaining to public interest and making them available over the internet at: Thousands of pages of information providing quite a bit of entertainment (especially the ones dealing with the House Committee on Un-American Activity) can be accessed. As of July 2002 the following is available: Alcatraz Escape American Friends Service Committee American POWs/MIAs in Southeast Asia Animal/Cattle Mutilation Aryan Brotherhood Atlanta Child Murders Atlanta FBI Field Office -- Hostage Situation Baby Face Nelson Baker, Josephine Ball, Lucille Barbie, Klaus Barker-Karpis Gang (summary) Barnes, George "Machine Gun" Kelly (summary) Black, Hugo Black Legion Black Panther Party-Winston Salem, NC Blunt, Anthony Bonnie and Clyde (summary) Bonus March Booth, John Wilkes Bowtie (Profumo Matter) Brecht, Bertolt Bundy, Theodore Robert Burgess, McLean and Philby Capone, Al Chavez, Cesar and United Farm Workers Churchill, Winston Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam Communist Infiltration-Motion Picture Industry (COMPIC) Council on Foreign Relations Custodial Detention Daily Worker Dalitz, Morris "Moe" Darrow, Clarence Deacons for Defense and Justice DeSalvo, Albert Dies, Martin Dillinger, John (Summary) Donovan, William J. DuBois, W. E. B. Earhart, Amelia Einstein, Albert Eisler, Hanns Fard, Wallace D Faulkner, William Five Percenters Flynn, Errol Ford, Henry Freedom of Information-Privacy Acts Annual Statistical Report Freedom of Information-Privacy Acts Reference Manual Gacy, John Wayne Galante, Carmine Gambino, Carlo Gay Activists Alliance Genovese, Vito Giancana, Sam Greenlease Kidnapping (Summary) Hammer, Armand/Occidental Petroleum Hanfstangl, Ernst Franz Sedwick (Putzi) Highlander Folk School Hell's Angels The Hindenburg Disaster Hitler, Adolph Hoffman, Abbie (Abbott) Hoover, J. Edgar Interpol Jonestown Summary Kennedy, John F., Jr. Kennedy, Joseph P. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Robert F. Assassination (Summary) Kent State University King, Martin Luther, Jr. Korean Airline Flight 007 Krivitsky, Walter G. Ku Klux Klan Lattimore, Owen Lennon, John Levison, Stanley Lewis, John L. Lindbergh, Charles Little, Malcolm X Liuzzo, Viola Murder London, Jack Long, Huey Luciano, Charles "Lucky" Mafia Monograph Majestic Mann, Thomas Mantle, Mickey Marcantonio, Vito Marga, Ananda Marshall, Thurgood McCarthy, Joseph Miami, Florida, 4/11/86 Shooting Incident Miburn (Mississippi Burning) Monroe, Marilyn Moorish Science Temple of America Muhammad, Elijah National Alliance Ness, Eliot Nureyev, Rudolph Onassis, Aristotle Onassis, Jacqueline Kennedy Orwell, George Osage Indian Murders Parker, Mack Charles Parsons, John Picasso, Pablo Posse Comitatus Presley, Elvis Pretty Boy Floyd and Kansas Massacre (Summary) Project Blue Book Purple Gang Purvis, Melvin Reich, Wilhelm Rockefeller, Nelson Robeson, Paul and Eslanda Robinson, Jackie Rogers, Will Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt Franklin D. (assassination attempt) Roselli, John Rosenberg, Julius and Ethel (Summary) Roswell Rudolph, Arthur Rukeyser, Muriel Sacco/Vanzetti Case St. Valentine's Day Massacre Siegel, Bugsy Silvermaster, Nathan Gregory Sinatra, Frank Smith, Clarence Space Shuttle Challenger Explosion Spellman, Francis Cardinal Spilotro, Anthony Steinbeck, John Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Supreme Court Surreptitious Entries Telephone Logs/Appointments/Calendars of J. Edgar Hoover Tesla, Nikola Tokyo Rose (Iva Ikako Toguri D'Aquino) Tolson, Clyde Tresca, Carlo Trotsky, Leon Unidentified Flying Objects Venona Von Braun, Wernher Watergate Wayne, John Weatherman Underground Wilkins, Roy Winchell, Walter Windsor, Duke and Duchess Wright, Richard Nathaniel Young Communist League Zwillman, Abner "Longie"

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