What is “FOIA”? – North Star

The Freedom of Information Act allows people to request documents like contracts, but many are unaware of its history and potential.

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The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a law that gives the public the right to access certain records of any federal or state agency.

FromKALB – It is common to hear a journalist say that he is going to “FOIA” something. But what does “FOIA-ing” something mean? The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a law that gives the public the right of access to certain records of any federal or state agency and is an essential tool for journalists and many other professions. For FOIA something is to put a document request.

NIU FOIA Officers

At the NIU, the people who receive these requests are FOIA agents Joan Laurino and Tom O’Grady. O’Grady, who is deputy general counsel for NIU as well as one of the academic officers of FOIA, believes the law plays a vital role in our world.

“As a member of the public, I think having the ability to have access to these records and to know what each level of government is engaged in is a very powerful tool for any citizen,” said said O’Grady. “Just knowing the access is there makes me feel a little better about being a part of this society.”

FOIA History

John Moss, a Democrat from Sacramento, was elected to Congress in 1952. Moss was an advocate for increased transparency with the public after Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration fired thousands of federal employees suspected of being communists. Moss demanded to see the documents regarding the employee’s termination, but the administration refused. This worried Moss a lot.

“The current trend of government secrecy could end in a dictatorship,” Moss said. “The more information available, the greater the security of the nation.”

After years of trying to muster support, Moss has finally succeeded. Despite his reluctance, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the FOIA bill into law on July 4, 1966.

Federal vs State FOIA

Like many laws and regulations, the FOIA is both federal and state law. The two laws are very similar, except that the federal FOIA deals with more general US government records and the Illinois FOIA deals with state-related records.

One of the biggest differences between the two FOIAs is the year they were adopted. The federal FOIA was passed in 1966, but the Illinois FOIA passed in 1983, making Illinois the last state in the union to pass freedom of information legislation. The Illinois FOIA also allows all documents to be open to the public, while the federal FOIA only deals with documents relating to the executive.

Illinois has one of the least restrictive FOIAs in the country. A 2009 amendment to the law made it much more open and transparent by requiring each public body to appoint an officer to be the official custodian of public records.

“Access to records in Illinois is probably greater than in many other states,” O’Grady said. “Your access to create FOIAs and what you can get, you’ll get a lot more records here in Illinois.”

Limits of the law

Although most records are available for public inspection, there are a few exceptions to the rules set forth in the FOIA (both federal and state). The law gives people the right to request documents, but does not guarantee that they will receive them.

There are many exemptions to both state and federal FOIA. The most common exemptions to the law relate to private personal information, such as a person’s social security number or drafts. Some documents will be publicly available, but may be filled with redactions to keep certain information private.

Why is FOIA so important?

The FOIA holds our government accountable. He has been instrumental in exposing both the misuse and waste of state and federal government resources over the years and continues to hold those responsible accountable for their actions.

“I think it’s really important because it involves people,” O’Grady said. “It gives people the tools they need to engage productively.”

To learn more about federal FOIA, visit foia.gov, to learn more about Illinois FOIA, visitilsos.gov, and to request FOIA regarding the NIU, visit Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Requests.