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Cases & resources

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.”

Resources

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

Freedom 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 Records” is a very detailed and user-friendly guide prepared by the Committee on Government Reform and published by the Government Printing Office.

The “Justice Department Guide to the Freedom of Information Act” (2007 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.

  • OpenTheGovernment.org 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 Columbia.

    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 conference, a daylong program of speaking and discussion by specialists in various aspects of freedom of information, updating developments in FOI over the preceding year.



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