How to Submit a FOIA RequestNovember 4, 2020
How to submit a FOIA request.
FOIA stands for the "Freedom of Information Act." Under FOIA, members of the public can request, and receive, records from the Federal Government. Basically, many records in possession of the Federal Government are subject to being turned over to any member of the public who requests it.
There are several exemptions and exclusions that identify information that is not subject to public disclosure under FOIA. The list of exemptions can be found at this link. A detailed discussion of each exemption and exclusion is beyond the scope of this article.
If you are wondering how to submit a FOIA request, it is easier than most think. They can be submitted using this link and clicking "Start Your Request." A requestor should be very specific, identifying the records requested as clearly as possible. Of note, the agency will ask if the requestor is willing to pay a small fee for processing costs.
After an individual submits a FOIA request, the agency that the information is requested from does a search of their records. If the record is found, the agency reviews it and redacts any information that is exempted. After doing this, the agency discloses what is left of the record to the requestor.
After the requestor receives the records in question, they will typically be offered the opportunity to appeal any exemption cited. For example, in the Army, disclosure decisions can be appealed to a higher authority internally. Additionally, the requestor can challenge the decision in federal court.
Submitting a FOIA request can be a powerful way to get information. For example, in the military context, a FOIA request can be a good way to get completed 15-6 investigations, decision memos, internal policies, etc.
This article was written by Attorney Matthew Barry.