FOIA allows release of documents from the government

Description: This Act defines agency records subject to disclosure, outlines mandatory disclosure procedures and grants nine exemptions to the statute

What is FOIA?

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) represents the implementation of freedom of information legislation in the United States.It was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 4, 1966 and subsequently has been amended in 1996, 2002, 2007. This act allows for the full or partial disclosure of previously unreleased information and documents controlled by the United States Government. This Act defines agency records subject to disclosure, outlines mandatory disclosure procedures and grants nine exemptions to the statute


With the stress on constitutional rights for information, it was considered important to make government information available to the public.  However since some of the information was sensitive and need not necessarily be known by the general public, this law was enacted. The belief was that the people have the ‘right to know’ about government information and could place a request for such information.


The act explicitly applies only to executive branch government agencies. These agencies are supposed to declare the process for requesting the information or documents pertaining to the information.  This act also specifies the legal recourse in case the executive agency does not comply with the requirements of the act.


There are nine exemptions to the act and there are several areas of discrepancy in these exemptions. These exemptions were brought about to address the issues of sensitivity and personal rights.

Here are the exemptions

1. Executive orders kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy

2.Records that are solely related to the internal personnel rules and practices of agovernment agency

3. Information that is specifically exempted from disclosure by the legislative statutes

4. Privileged or confidential commercial or financial information and trade secrets

5. Anyinter-agency or intra-agency communication in the form of memoranda or lettersthat is otherwise not available by law to any party other than the ones that are a party to litigation.

6.Files containing personnel information or medical information the disclosure of which can constitute invasion of privacy.

7. Information records compiled for the purpose of law enforcement the disclosure of which

  1. could interfere with enforcement proceedings,
  2. could constitute invasion of privacy,
  3. could disclose identity of a person, state, nation or other entities that disclose information on a confidential basis,
  4. is related to criminal law enforcement,
  5. intelligence information,
  6. information about the techniques of law enforcement the disclosure of which could support or assist in circumvention of the law and
  7. information that can endanger the life or physical safety of an individual.

8. Information related to the regulation or supervision of a financial institution.

9.Certain confidential geological and geophysical information and data including maps.