Resource Center

Freedom of Information

Welcome to IRE's Freedom of Information page. Here you'll find IRE resources and external links to help you understand federal or state-level freedom of information law, file requests, overcome obstacles and get the documents and data you need. You'll also find coverage of ongoing Freedom of Information developments and tales of open records battles on our blog Transparency Watch.

Filing requests

 

Know your FOI law

Before you file a request, make sure you know the details about what is and isn't public, what formats you can get the information in and how long an agency has to respond to your request. State open records and meetings laws differ from the federal FOIA, and exemptions, time limits and processing costs vary from state to state.

Guides to the federal FOIA

  • FOIA.gov
    Get to know the law, its reach and its exemptions, and get aggregate data on requests, denials and appeals at the federal FOIA page.  
  • FOIA online
    A few federal agencies have begun participating with this federal site, intended to add transparency to the FOIA process by publicizing requests and responses. 
  • FOI Center
    The Freedom of Information Center is a reference and research library in the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism on the campus of the University of Missouri ... The FOI Center possesses the oldest and most comprehensive Freedom of Information library in the world, with a collection of more than one million articles and documents about access to information at the state, federal and local levels.
  • The National Security Archive, George Washington University
    The National Security Archive was founded in 1985 by journalists and scholars to check rising government secrecy. Its primary functions include "investigative journalism center, research institute on international affairs, library and archive of declassified U.S. documents ("the world's largest nongovernmental collection" according to the Los Angeles Times), leading non-profit user of the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, public interest law firm defending and expanding public access to government information, global advocate of open government, and indexer and publisher of former secrets."

Guides to state FOI laws

  • FOIA Advocates
    You can open or download .pdf copies of all 50 states’ public records laws from this page.
  • NFOIC state guide
    Supplies contact information, publications, form letters, and updated resources on all 50 states’ FOI processes. 
  • Open Government Guide
    Complete guides on each state’s open records and open meetings laws.  Guides may be purchased as print or .pdf copies. 

 

Working with FOIA and public information officers

Access to information is rarely as simple as request and receive. It can take considerable time and effort to get access to records -- particularly the records you need. IRE's community of journalist has developed tips and best practices for fighting and winning public records battles.

 

Get help with your request

Between legal help, open records ombudsmen and FOI advocates who will fight on your behalf, you don't have to be alone in your request.

  • Office of Government Information Services (OGIS)
    OGIS is a Freedom of Information Act resource for both the public and government. OGIS is charged with reviewing FOIA policies and compliance. It also resolves FOIA disputes between federal agencies and requesters.
  • FOI litigation fund
    With a grant from the Knight Foundation, the National Freedom of Information Coalition offers legal help on FOI matters. 
  • MuckRock
    MuckRock is an online service that that makes it easy for you to quickly file FOIA requests. MuckRock acts as a request proxy, e-mailing, faxing or mailing the request on your behalf, with the documents returning to its offices and then prepared for the requester's convenience. MuckRock also ensures documents remain private until a project is ready to publish.

 

The latest in FOI

The following sites provide updates on the latest happenings in Freedom of Information, as well as tools for tracking requests as they're made.

  • The Art of Access
    The Art of Access is a blog from the Missouri Journalism School's freedom of information expert, Charles Davis, who authored an open government guidebook by the same name. The blog categorized posts into access tips and different kinds of useful public documents, sorted by beat: "We hope that over time this will serve as a useful, searchable repository for record ideas and tips that will help you get story ideas and suggestions for acquiring records. We’ll also work to tag each post with the chapters it corresponds to in the book – so you can find what you need, when you need it."
  • Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse
    The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) is a research center at Syracuse University. TRAC was established in 1989 in order to obtain detailed information from various federal agencies under the FOIA, check its accuracy and completeness and make the data available to the public through its two web sites, TRAC and TRACFed.
  • The FOIA Project
    A project of TRAC, the FOIA project is a comprehensive repository of FOIA lawsuit documents, hosted by DocumentCloud. The FOIA project is soon expandng to include documents pertaining to requests and responses, sorted by government agency.
  • The Government Attic
    The Government Attic provides electronic copies of thousands of documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Most are historcial documents, reports on items in the news and other oddities: "Think of browsing this site as rummaging through the Government's Attic -- hence our name."
  • The FOIA Advocate
    The NFOIC open government blog contains analysis as well as aggregation form around the web regarding trends in open meetings and records polices and practices.
  • The FOIA Ombudsmen
    A freedom of information blog from the U.S. National Archives Office of Government Information Services. Weekly FOIA logs are included.

An IRE blog tracking the fight for open records

TRANSPARENCY WATCH

Judge blocks Alabama newspaper from printing information obtained through open records request

A state court judge has temporarily blocked the Montgomery Advertiser from publishing information about a utility company’s plan for gas line safety, information obtained through an open records request.

Alagasco says the Distribution Integrity Management Plan, released to the newspaper by the Alabama Public Service Commission, contains proprietary and safety-related information that could jeopardize public safety, according to the Associated Press.

The Advertiser says the court ruling is a case of unconstitutional prior restraint. The Gannett-owned paper asked for the plan as part of an extensive pipe safety project by USA TODAY.

A hearing will take place Monday to ...

Read more ...

Mississippi town could make text messages readily available

A town in Mississippi could soon become the first in the state to archive and make available the text messages of public officials, according to the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal. The pending policy comes in response to a Mississippi Ethic Commission ruling against Tupelo, after the city had denied the Daily Journal text messages between the mayor and another city official.

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History laws already require that cities hold on to text messages. As local government records, the texts should be open to the public. But state officials have openly stated that municipalities don’t ...

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Appeals court upholds denial of FOIA request for detainee's photo

A U.S. Court of Appeals upheld a Freedom of Information Act request denial to grant photos and other materials showing Guantanamo Bay prisoner Mohammed al-Qahtani to the Center for Constitutional Rights. Al-Qahtani is the alleged would-be 20th hijacker on 9/11 and one of the highest profile U.S. detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

The panel ruled that "the federal government sufficiently made its case that the videos and photographs of al-Qahtani should be kept secret under Exemption 1 to FOIA, which provides for the withholding of materials in the interest of ‘national defense or foreign policy,’” according to the ...

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NPR releases militarization data ahead of White House analysis

NPR has released analyzed data that shows every military item shipped to local, state and federal agencies from 2006 through April 23, 2014, as a part of the 1033 program. The items from the Pentagon’s Law Enforcement Support Office include mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs) and assault rifles, among other things. NPR’s analysis also identifies the items by their cost to the Department of Defense.

Since unrest erupted in Ferguson, Missouri, following the killing of teenager Michael Brown, opposition has grown against a trend known as "police militarization," which critics say is fueled by programs that put items formerly ...

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Cuomo administration policy allows state to delete emails of government employees

According to WNYC, "New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration — which the governor pledged would be the most transparent in state history — has quietly adopted policies that allow it to purge the emails of tens of thousands of state employees, cutting off a key avenue for understanding and investigating state government."

"Last year, the state started deleting any emails more than 90 days old that users hadn’t specifically saved — a much more aggressive stance than many other states. The policy shift was first reported by the Albany Times Union."

Public records request service sues CIA over FOIA practices

MuckRock is suing the CIA over a handful of specific FOIA requests that would shed light on how the agency determines what is and isn’t releasable, among other things.

The CIA “has a track record of holding itself apart from, and largely above, the Freedom of Information Act, consistently ignoring deadlines, refusing to work with requesters, and capriciously rejecting even routine requests for what should be clearly public information,” MuckRock wrote in a blog post.

The suit also addresses the way the CIA handles general requests for emails.

You can learn more about the individual FOIA requests involved in ...

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News organizations file lawsuits against Missouri for failing to release execution drug records

Missouri's failure to release records regarding the drugs it uses in executions keeps the public from providing oversight of the death penalty. That's what the Associated Press and four other news organizations are arguing in a suit filed Thursday against the state. Another suit filed the same day by a reporter for St. Louis Public Radio, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri also challenges the secrecy.

The journalists say the public has a constitutional right to know what drugs are being used in executions carried out by the ...

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Louisiana failed to turn over key public records about execution drugs

Documents entered into court record in the lawsuit of one prisoner on death row show that the Louisiana Department of Corrections had documents that would have fulfilled a records request made by The Lens in 2013.

The Lens, a non-profit newsroom in New Orleans, had previously requested records pertaining to the purchase and inventory of the state's supply of pentobarbital, as well as communications about the lethal injection drug. The only documents received in response to this request were ones showing that the department had purchased the drug for about $5,000. A later request also asked for records ...

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Cuomo administration maintains secrecy, uses private email for official business

Some New York state officials are using private email accounts to conduct official business. One reporter at ProPublica received an email from Howard Glaser, director of state operations and a top adviser to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, regarding an open records request. This email was sent from Glaser's personal email account. But later, when the reporter filed a request for emails sent from Glaser's private account, he was informed that the state had no such records. Even after submitting the request again (this time with the email that he had received from Glaser attached as evidence) the ...

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Virginia Supreme Court: FOIA does not cover faculty emails, unpublished research

Faculty emails and unpublished university research can be deemed “proprietary” and withheld under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, the Virginia Supreme Court announced last week.

The law was called into question in 2011 when the American Tradition Institute and Virginia Del. Robert Marshall filed a request for emails of Michael Mann, a prominent climate scientist and former University of Virginia professor.

According to the Washington Post:

Lawyers for U-Va. turned over about 1,000 documents to Marshall and ATI, led by former EPA attorney David Schnare, but withheld another 12,000 papers and e-mails, saying that work “of a ...

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