How to file an FOIA request cases & resources

Tuesday, January 4, 2005

How to file an FOIA request

Supreme Court

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has compiled a list of “Major Supreme Court FOI
Act Cases.”


of Information Topics
and Federal
and State FOI Statutes
in The First Amendment Library

of Information Act — federal statute

Privacy Act of 1974 —
federal statute

“A Citizen’s Guide on Using
the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act of 1974 to Request Government
is a very detailed and user-friendly guide prepared by the
Committee on Government Reform and published by the Government Printing

The “Justice Department Guide
to the Freedom of Information Act”
(2009 report) is an extensive
discussion of the act's procedural aspects and exemptions that includes case law
interpretations. It is updated by the Department of Justice's Office of
Information and Privacy every two years.

“Federal Open Government Guide” is an excellent guide prepared by the Reporters Committee for Freedom
of the Press and geared specifically toward journalists.

The DOJ keeps updated
links to all other federal agencies’ FOIA Web sites

DOJ also keeps an updated list of principal
FOIA contacts at all federal agencies

The DOJ’s Office of Information and Privacy has a FOIA counseling service
that answers general questions and helps with determining which agency to
approach. Its number is 202/514-3642.

The Federal Citizen Information Center of the U.S. General Services
Administration also answers questions about FOIA, advertising that it is
“especially prepared to help you find the right agency, the right office and the
right address.” Phone 800/333-4636 or e-mail them your questions from this site.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has jurisdiction over most products
and provides a helpful guide to the
products (and some services) that other agencies oversee.

The Department of Justice provides copies of annual FOIA reports for all federal branches and agencies.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press publishes The Open Government Guide, a
guide to each state’s open-meetings and open-records laws. Also see the Reporters Committee's FOI resources.

Similar information can be found at the Web site of the Marion Brechner Citizens
Access Project.

Most states have FOI offices or officers within individual agencies, so it
may be expedient to call the agency governing your area of interest.

When you know the address for the agency whose information you seek, see the
Student Press Law Center's FOI
request letter generator.

The Reporters Committee also has a user-friendly letter generator on its
Web site. It prompts you for all relevant information about your request and
drafts the letter for you, then allows you to edit it before saving or printing.
You must e-mail or mail it yourself.

Nongovernment FOIA groups
Several nonprofit watchdog groups monitor
FOIA, including public-interest groups, First Amendment advocates, journalists
and libraries. Their Web sites provide updates on FOIA issues in the news as
well as their own studies of government secrecy.

  • is a nonprofit coalition of more than 30 organizations
    working on freedom of information issues. In 2008 it released its independent
    study on government classification and secrecy.
    The group has also compiled
    a report on the most-wanted federal documents.

  • George Washington University’s National Security Archive is a good
    place to start when looking for declassified documents about national security.

  • OMB Watch posts news, background
    and analysis on a wide range of information and access issues.

  • The Citizen Access Project's Web
    site includes the texts of all freedom-of-information laws enacted in each of
    the 50 states. It also provides contacts for local organizations involved with
    open-government issues.

  • The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press’s “Open Government Guide” is probably
    the most complete guide to open-government law in the 50 states and District of

    In addition to its open-government guide, the Reporters Committee has done an
    in-depth study of
    electronic access in each state,
    “a survey of constitutional provisions,
    statutes, court decisions, attorney general opinions and gubernatorial executive
    orders concerning access to electronic records.”

  • FOIAdvocates offers many
    resources, including FAQs.

  • WikiFoia is a Wiki launched in
    March 2007 that seeks “to build a comprehensive and collaborative How To Guide
    to provide very practical information about open records requests at the state
    and local level.”

  • The First Amendment Center sponsors the annual National FOI Day
    a daylong program of speaking and discussion by specialists in
    various aspects of freedom of information, updating developments in FOI over the
    preceding year.