FOI is the common abbreviation for Freedom of Information, which is a right embodied by the federal Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S. Code § 552, and acts signed into law by various states. Freedom of Information refers to the ability of any citizen to requests and receive certain government records that may or may not have been previously released to the public. A wide range of documents and records are available under these acts. Amid recent controversy, this right has become even more fervently protected by journalists and citizen activists.
The federal FOI Act is applicable to federal agencies, but not to any state agency. Federal agencies must publish their process for processing FOIA requests in a location that is easily accessible to the public. Federal agencies may charge those who request documents under FOIA, but may only charge a reasonable fee to cover the cost of having employees find, copy/transmit, and review requested materials. All records of government agency actions are accessible under this act, unless one or more of the following condition are true:
– The records are classified by executive order
– The records are so trivial that no reasonable public interest could reside in the records
– The records are specifically prohibited from being released by federal statute
– The records would reveal trade secrets/financial information of an individual
– The records are ‘”inter-agency or intra-agency memorandum or letters” which would be privileged in civil litigation.’ (http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/5/552) Ex: Some records of executive discussion, documents from agency lawyers.
– The records pertain to personnel/medical records of individuals
– The records contain law enforcement details that would reveal training methods or disturb ongoing prosecution or investigation.
– The records pertain to reports generated while regulating financial agencies
– The records contain GIS or map data about wells
Arkansas FOI (State/County/City/Municipal Boards and Committees/School District)
Arkansas FOI is very similar to the federal FOI regulations. All records contained in offices and agencies supported in part or in whole by Arkansas state taxes or local taxes collected within Arkansas are subject to these rules. Organizations to which the Arkansas FOI act apply to must provide the requested records within 3 business days unless they are exempt records. Arkansas FOI also maintains that most boards of government organizations must meet in public in addition to regulating government record disclosure. The following records are not required to be released:
– State income tax records
– Medical records, scholastic records, and adoption records
– The records maintained by the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program and the Arkansas Archeological Survey
– Grand jury minutes
– Unpublished drafts of judicial or quasi-judicial opinions and decisions
– Undisclosed investigations by law enforcement agencies of suspected criminal activity
– Unpublished memoranda, working papers, and correspondence of the Governor, members of the General Assembly, Supreme Court Justices, Court of Appeals Judges, and the Attorney General
– Documents which are protected from disclosure by order or rule of court
– Files which, if disclosed, would give advantage to competitors or bidders
– Personnel records to the extent that disclosure would constitute clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.
– The identity of law enforcement officers currently working undercover with their agency
How to Request Information from a Federal Agency
You may request information by sending FOIA requests to the appropriate party listed on the agency website. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has a letter generator specifically for this purpose. Access it here.
How to Request Information from an Agency of the State of Arkansas
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press also has a letter generator for organization that the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act applies to (link). Requests may be delivered electronically or in person.