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.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers itself to be one of the nation’s foremost scientific institutions, dedicated to transparency and evidence-driven policies. It is fair, therefore, to ask this question: What happens when the CDC brazenly ignores the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), taking more than five years to fulfill a journalist’s information request, which by law should take “approximately a month”?
Speaking from experience — absolutely nothing.
In July 2007, I submitted a simple request for emails and resumes from three CDC employees. This information was needed for background research associated with the Lyme disease documentary ...Read more ...
The Associated Press reports that the Department of Justice secretly obtained two months worth phone records from its reporters and editors. AP President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Pruitt said in a letter to the department that the records obtained were beyond the scope of any specific investigation, and called the actions a "massive and unprecedented intrusion" into how news organizations gather the news. Read more at the AP ...
New York State this week announced the addition of millions of records to the state’s data transparency website, open.ny.gov, which launched during Sunshine Week of 2011. New York’s is one of 39 state open data sites, according to data.gov. At least 39 county and city governments have similar portals.
The records span multiple state agencies and include, according to the news release, includes the following records:
- Campaign Contributions, Expenditures, and Committees: Over seven million
records of campaign contributions and expenditures dating back to 1999,
along with a complete list of candidate committees registered with the ...
After the Obama administration promised it would “strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government,” it has since carried out an unprecedented campaign against federal government whistleblowers.
Since 2009, six government officials have been prosecuted under the Espionage Act, a World War I era act that had only been used three times before the current administration. The New York Times, ProPublica, The New Yorker, The Nation and others have all documented various aspects of the administration’s crackdown on whistleblowers.
This week, Bill Moyers’ site provides an overview of the six ...Read more ...
In a disappointing unanimous decision yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states can ignore public record requests from non-residents.
This is one of the most regressive, backward rulings the U.S. Supreme Court has issued on access laws for some time. Two reasons make this particularly alarming:
- The court continues to look at public records as commodities, like lumber or turnips. The bulk of the case came down to whether the Virginia law harms business interests for those buying and selling information from outside the state. The court completely ignored the 76-page amicus brief submitted by the Reporters ...
The U.S. Supreme Court decided unanimously today that the state of Virginia had the power to restrict public records access to residents of that state. Virginia limits freedom of information requests to its own residents and certain media outlets.
The case reached the court after Rhode Island resident Mark J. McBurney and California resident Roger W. Hurlbert sued Virginia for blocking access to public documents that an in-state resident could obtain.
They contended that the state’s practice violated the Constitution’s Privileges and Immunities Clause and its Commerce Clause. The court ruled that Virginia’s FOIA law “does ...Read more ...
Reversing a position announced in March, the U.S. Department of State has stated it will make public the more than 800,000 comments submitted to date regarding the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
In March, John H. Cushman reported for InsideClimate News that the State Department would not make public the public comments it received during the drafting of an Environmental Impact Statement for the pipeline, except through the Freedom of Information Act. Cushman, who said he makes a habit of reading the docket of public comments for reporting, said he was taken aback when he was told the comments ...Read more ...
By Jonathan Ellis, Argus Leader
Here’s a novel idea: If you take money from the federal government, the public should know how much you’re taking and for what.
That basic premise is at the heart of the Argus Leader’s lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture. The paper filed suit in 2011 seeking to force the department to turn over records of how much each business that participates in the food stamp program has earned from food stamps over the last five years. The lawsuit would force the disclosure of those records from more than 300 ...Read more ...
Last week, The Association of Health Care Journalists, along with IRE and five other journalism and open-government groups, sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture calling for the release of public information about the country's food stamp program. From the AHCJ blog:
Read more ...
Currently, the USDA refuses to reveal how much money individual retailers make from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps. Additionally, the USDA does not disclose which products are purchased with SNAP dollars or how much is spent on each product, in aggregate.
The USDA’s position runs contrary to President ...
By Judy Meyer
Maine is moving in the wrong direction when it comes to public access.
The very computer systems and databases created to improve the flow of information and ease public access are now being held up, by lawmakers, as troublesome portals to be sealed shut in the interest of personal privacy. That easy access to public records is something to fear.
While fear is a good motivator to move people to action, it’s a poor foundation for drafting good public policy. But fear works, and lawmakers increasingly seem more moved by emotion than by information ...Read more ...