The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a federal law that allows people to get records and information from the federal government. The Act requires the government to provide copies of public records to people who request them.
There is also an Illinois FOIA for getting records and information from the state government.
The federal FOIA applies to all federal agencies, departments, regulatory commissions, government controlled corporations, and other establishments in the executive branch of the federal government.
- Cabinet offices, such as the Departments of Defense, State, Treasury, Interior, and Justice
- Independent regulatory agencies and commissions such as the Federal Trade Commission, Federal Communications Commission and the Consumer Product Safety Commission
- Government-controlled corporations such as the US Postal Service and Amtrak
- Presidential commissions, and
- The Executive Office of the President and the Office of Management and Budget
However, there are exceptions. The federal FOIA does not apply to the following:
- The President, his immediate staff, the Office of the Vice President or the Office of Administration
- The federal courts
- Private corporations
- Federally funded state agencies
- State and local governments
The Illinois FOIA allows you to get information from Illinois public bodies.
- Legislative, executive, administrative or advisory bodies of Illinois
- State universities and colleges
- Counties, townships, cities, villages, and incorporated towns
- School districts
- All other municipal corporations, boards, bureaus, committees, or commissions of Illinois
The information you can get
The federal FOIA covers all records that have been prepared, used, or possessed by the public bodies or agencies covered by the law. These records can include:
- Policy information
- Reports and studies
- Public contracts, and
- Titles and salaries of public employees
This also includes records held by non-government entities.
The term “records" includes all types of information such as:
- Computer Tapes
- Sound recordings in any format
Physical objects that cannot be reproduced are generally not considered records under the FOIA.
The Illinois FOIA allows you to request all records, in any form, that have been prepared, used, or possessed by the public agencies relating to public business. These records can include orders, rules, policy information, reports and studies, public contracts and the titles and salaries of public employees.
The information you cannot get
The federal FOIA has nine different exemptions to information that you can request. They include:
- Information relating to national security that is specifically ordered to be kept secret
- Records that are related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency
- Information specifically exempt by federal law
- Trade secrets and commercial or financial information
- Internal agency memos
- Information that would cause an unnecessary invasion of personal privacy
- Law enforcement records that could get in the way of an investigation or take away someone’s right to a fair trial
- Bank reports
- Oil and gas well data
If you request information that is covered by one of these exemptions, the agency may deny your request. The denial should outline which exemption that the information you requested falls under.
Some information is not covered by the Illinois FOIA. This includes:
- Data that can’t be disclosed because of federal or state law
- Private information
- Documents from a law enforcement agency revealing a person’s mental or physical condition
- Information created during an administrative enforcement procedure that, if disclosed, would take away someone’s rights or interfere with a pending or likely to occur proceeding
- Records that could affect the security of jails
- Preliminary drafts
- Trade secrets
- Proposals and bids for contracts that would interfere with the bidding process
- Valuable data that could produce private gain or public loss
- Records relating to a public body’s handling of an employee’s grievance or disciplinary case, except as to the outcome
- Restrictions on the records a person committed to the Department of Corrections may request
If you request records that contain some of the above information, the agency may deny your request but must notify you of its reason for doing so. Also, the agency may remove the parts of the information that is exempt, and still provide you with the rest of the record.