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 in turn are required to provide copies of those records to the requester except to the extent that any records, or portions of 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 proactively post online certain types of records, including those that have been frequently requested.
On June 30, 2016, President Obama signed into law the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, which contains several substantive and procedural amendments to the FOIA as well as new reporting requirements for agencies. You can read the text of the FOIA, showing the changes made by the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, a summary of the recent amendments, and the full text of the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 through the links below.
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.