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:
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
Barker-Karpis Gang (summary)
Barnes, George "Machine Gun" Kelly (summary)
Black Panther Party
-Winston Salem, NC
Bonnie and Clyde
Booth, John Wilkes
Bowtie (Profumo Matter)
Bundy, Theodore Robert
Burgess, McLean and Philby
and United Farm Workers
Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam
Communist Infiltration-Motion Picture Industry (COMPIC)
Council on Foreign Relations
Dalitz, Morris "Moe"
Deacons for Defense and Justice
Donovan, William J.
DuBois, W. E. B.
Fard, Wallace D
Freedom of Information-Privacy Acts Annual Statistical Report
Freedom of Information-Privacy Acts Reference Manual
Gacy, John Wayne
Gay Activists Alliance
Greenlease Kidnapping (Summary)
Hammer, Armand/Occidental Petroleum
Hanfstangl, Ernst Franz Sedwick (Putzi)
Highlander Folk School
The Hindenburg Disaster
Hoover, J. Edgar
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
Lewis, John L.
Little, Malcolm X
Liuzzo, Viola Murder
Luciano, Charles "Lucky"
Miami, Florida, 4/11/86 Shooting Incident
Miburn (Mississippi Burning)
Moorish Science Temple of America
Onassis, Jacqueline Kennedy
Osage Indian Murders
Parker, Mack Charles
Pretty Boy Floyd and Kansas Massacre (Summary)
Project Blue Book
Robeson, Paul and Eslanda
Roosevelt Franklin D. (assassination attempt)
Rosenberg, Julius and Ethel (Summary)
St. Valentine's Day Massacre
Silvermaster, Nathan Gregory
Space Shuttle Challenger Explosion
Spellman, Francis Cardinal
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
Telephone Logs/Appointments/Calendars of J. Edgar Hoover
Tokyo Rose (Iva Ikako Toguri D'Aquino)
Unidentified Flying Objects
Von Braun, Wernher
Windsor, Duke and Duchess
Wright, Richard Nathaniel
Young Communist League
Zwillman, Abner "Longie"