Freedom Of Information Act
Freedom of Information Act
Find out more about the Freedom of Information Act.
More from Wes on Freedom of Information.
Debated, amended, and currently under siege – the Freedom of Information Act remains one of the sharpest weapons in a researcher’s arsenal.
But just what is FOIA, and how can you use it to seek the information you need?
On the Fourth of July, 1966 President Lyndon Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, into law.
The law is based on the belief that individuals should know what their government is up to, and have the right seek that information out.
It now applies to all 15 federal departments, from Justice to Homeland Security-- but not the White House, congress or the courts.
So suppose you want to get to the bottom about some issue that involves the government.
Let’s say you’re curious about the quality of the drinking water in your city, and if it’s in any way tied in with that old nuclear energy plant up river.
The first step is to figure out which department or agency holds the info you seek.
That’s important because FOIA is itself not a centralized agency, so knowing who might be best able to answer that question is crucial.
In this case, information about the water system in the U.S. falls under the Environmental Protection Agency.
From there, it’s simply a matter of writing a letter requesting the information you need.
Most department web sites have form letters you can follow that will help you frame your request.
Make your request as clear as possible, or it’s likely your request will languish, or be denied.
But don’t let all this scare you.
Just be well prepared, patient, and persistent, and, if you’re convinced the information you seek should be made public—don’t take no for an answer.