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.
- Reporter's committee for freedom of the press FOIA letter generator
Answer a few questions about the nature of your federal or state FOIA request, and the generator will create a letter for you to print, sign, and mail. Includes forms for complaints, appeals, and Vaughn motions.
- RPFC webinar: navigating federal FOIA
Audio of RPFC webinar.
- Society of Professional Journalists step-by-step guide to FOI requests
An overview of FOIA laws and procedures, including how to handle denials, and a list of toolkits provided for free by the SPJ.
- National Freedom of Information Colation sample requests
Sample letters for FOIA and Privacy Act requests, appeals, and amendments. Samples are text which may be copied and pasted.
- Student Press Law Center
A fill-in-the-blank letter generator for state open records law requests.
- Federal agency FOIA offices
A comprehensive list of FOIA offices for federal agencies
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
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.
- Storypack: Filing FOIAs and getting what you want
With the Freedom of Information story pack, you will get an in-depth look at the ways journalists have fought for information, the obstacles they encountered along the way, and the ultimate success stories which show the power of the Freedom of Information Act.
- Tipsheet: Fighting for Records and Access
- Tipsheet: Finding and negotiating for data
- Tipsheet: Open Records - Legal Road Blocks and Resources
- Tipsheet: Fighting and winning open 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 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.
A decision by the student newspaper at the University of Oklahoma to join its staffer’s lawsuit against the school caused officials to reverse course on their original decision to withhold parking ticket citations.
OU Daily staff member Joey Stipek had filed the suit in May 2013 after his open records requests for parking tickets was denied on the grounds that the citations were protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA.
Last week, the Daily published an editorial backing Stipek and declaring that the newspaper is joining the lawsuit. OU President David Boren soon after issued ...Read more ...
The no-fly zone in place during August’s protests in Ferguson, Missouri, was enacted to keep the media from shooting overhead footage from helicopters, according to a report by the Associated Press.
The AP got its hands on audio recordings of conversations between the Federal Aviation Administration and local police officials. In the recordings, local authorities admit that the no-fly zone, billed as a measure to ensure the public’s safety, was in fact aimed at boxing out news media.
Police have claimed the 37 square miles of space was restricted in response to shots fired at a police helicopter ...Read more ...
The Democrat & Chronicle is fighting a county’s denial to provide license plate information about seven newspaper employees and a couple government-owned vehicles, the paper reports.
The Rochester, New York-based paper has reported that Monroe County is indiscriminately amassing license-plate information from high-speed cameras. During the summer, a reporter filed a Freedom of Information Law request to obtain the records about his own license plate and that of six colleagues and two government vehicles.
County officials denied the request because, they said, a release of the data could violate personal privacy or interfere with a law enforcement investigation. The paper ...Read more ...
An Alabama judge has lifted a temporary restraining order banning the Montgomery Advertiser from publishing public documents it obtained from a gas company.
The newspaper had obtained, through an open records request to the state’s Public Service Commission, a copy of Alabama Gas Corp.’s Integrity Management Plan, which contained information about the age and condition of gas pipes in communities such as Montgomery, Birmingham and Selma.
Alagasco argued that publishing the location of the pipes raised the risk for terrorism. Judge Robert Vance originally agreed but, in lifting his restraining order, wrote that “while such possibilities might exist ...Read more ...
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 ...
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 ...Read more ...
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 ...Read more ...
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 ...Read more ...
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."
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 ...Read more ...