Freedom of Information Act University of Oregon Libraries
Freedom of Information Act
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), originally passed in 1966, generally provides that any person has the right to request access to federal agency records or information, and that agencies must give a written reply. As of 1996, the law also requires agencies to make some information freely available online, even without a specific request. (A history of FOIA legislation and changes is available from the National Security Archive at George Washington University.)
The FOIA does not apply to Congress, the courts, the central offices of the White House, or state or local governments. However, all state governments have their own FOIA-type statutes. The Student Press Law Center provides a guide for requesting information from state or local jurisdictions.
The FOIA also excludes some information related to personal or corporate privacy, law enforcement, and national security.
Since 1996, federal agencies have been required to make information released in response to FOIA requests available electronically in "electronic reading rooms." The Department of Justice lists the FOIA pages for federal departments and agencies, which link to electronic reading rooms and information about filing FOIA requests. The DOJ also archives all agencies' annual FOIA reports, which indicate how many FOIA requests were filed, how many were fulfilled, and how many were denied.
If you can't find information you want from the federal government, please start by contacting a librarian - we might be able to help you track it down. If it turns out you must file a FOIA request, the General Services Administration has a helpful brochure, "Your Right to Federal Records", which covers your rights under both FOIA and the Privacy Act. A more detailed guide is available from the National Security Archive at George Washington University.
Canada's equivalent of the Freedom of Information Act is the Access to Information Act. Again, if you can't find information you want from the federal government, please start by contacting a librarian: the University of Oregon is a depository library for the Canadian government, and we might be able to help you track it down. If not, you can request information from the Canadian federal government with this form. The Information Commissioner of Canada is responsible for insuring access to government information.