About the FOIA

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was passed by Congress in 1966 to provide the public with a right of access to federal government records. The FOIA gives the public the right to request access to records of the Executive Branch of government and agencies are required to search for those requested records and then to provide copies to the requester unless the records contain information that is protected from mandatory disclosure. Congress provided protection from mandatory disclosure for information contained within records that would, for example, invade a person’s personal privacy, reveal confidential commercial information, impede law enforcement, or reveal privileged communications. The FOIA also requires agencies to automatically make available to the public certain types of records.

Because the FOIA applies only to records of the Executive Branch of the federal government, it does not provide access to records held by Congress, the federal courts, advisory offices of the President, state or local government agencies, or by private businesses or individuals. All states have their own statutes governing public access to state and local government records. State agencies should be consulted for further information about obtaining access to state records.

Each federal agency is responsible for meeting its FOIA responsibilities for its own records.

Updated July 23, 2014