1. Determine what information you are looking for
The first step involved in making a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request is determining exactly what records you are seeking access to. If you make a request to the wrong agency or if your request is too vague, it could be denied.
2. Make an informal request
You can first request information from an agency informally. If you know what information you are looking for, you can simply contact the agency to request it. The agency may give you access to the information without needing a FOIA request.
3. Send a written request for the information to the state agency
If the informal approach does not work, you can exercise your rights under FOIA by writing a formal request. You can do this by sending a letter to the agency by certified mail that outlines the specific records you are seeking access to. You should address your letter to the attention of the Freedom of Information Officer.
Send the letter using certified mail and be sure to request a return receipt. The following are some tips for writing your request:
- Be as specific as possible in your description of the information you want to review;
- Specify whether you would like copies of the records, or simply access to them so that you may review them in person;
- If you are seeking a fee waiver, be sure to include a specific explanation of why your request is in the public interest and not for your own personal benefit;
- Include all of your relevant contact information. This includes your name, telephone number, preferred mailing address, and e-mail address.
You can use this Sample FOIA request letter for making your request.
Note: Often, the public body that you are requesting information from has its own FOIA request form. If they do, you should use that form. These forms are often available online, on the public body’s website.
4. If you do not receive a response
Public bodies are required to respond to FOIA requests within 5 business days. If the public body that you have requested information from does not respond within this time, it is considered a denial.
Make sure that you requested the information from the right source, and that the agency received your request. If you have done everything correctly and you still do not get a response, follow the steps for a denial.
5. If your request is denied
If the public body denies your request, it must provide you with written notice of the denial, detailing the reasons for denial and any claimed exemption, as well as the names and titles of each person responsible for the denial.
The notice of denial must also inform you of your right to challenge a denial by sending your request to the Public Access Counselor. You must submit a request for review to the Illinois Public Access Counselor within 60 calendar days from the date that your request was denied.
You can send your request for review by email at email@example.com or by standard mail at the following address:
Public Access Counselor
Office of the Attorney General
500 S. 2nd Street
Springfield, IL 62701
You can use this Sample request for FOIA Review by the Public Access Counselor.
Send your original request, along with any responses from the agency with your request for review. When making your request for review, you do not need to use any standard forms.
7. Injunctive relief
If you are denied access to public records by a public body in Illinois, you may file a suit for injunctive relief or declaratory judgment in the circuit court of the county in which the public body is located. If the judge agrees with you, they will issue a court order that tells the public body to give you the records.
If you get a court order, the public body has to respond to your request. If they don't, they could be fined between $2,500-$5,000, and an extra $1,000 for each day that goes by that they don't give you the documents.
Updated: January 2017