A Guide to Accessing Public Records for the First Time
Table of Contents
What Are Freedom of Information Act Requests?
- Disclose all requested records unless it falls under an exemption like privacy or national security.
- Proactively post online certain categories of information and frequently requested records.
- Respond to requests within 20 business days, barring unusual circumstances.
Who Is FOIA For?
What Are Common FOIA Request Hurdles?
Lengthy wait times
Potential filing costs
- Is classified for national security.
- Explains only internal personnel rules and practices.
- Is illegal to disclose by federal law.
- Includes confidential or privileged trade secrets.
- Is privileged communication, such as attorney-client privilege.
- Invades a person’s individual privacy.
- Interferes with law enforcement or a fair trial.
- Concerns the supervision of financial institutions.
- Includes geological information about wells.
Five Tips For First-Time FOIA Requests
Work through the basics.
- What information do you want? Create a clear ask. In the case of a teacher’s unfair salary, you want to know the salary of every teacher in your high school.
- Who has that information? Hone in on a specific location. Teachers are paid by the local school district, not the federal or state department of education.
- Do you have a right to the information? Figure out if you are entitled to the records. In some cases, like with teacher salaries, the information may already be publicly available.