What is FOIA?

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What is FOIA?

The Freedom of Information Act, often called FOIA, is a federal law passed over 50 years ago, and it allows anyone in the world, businesses, individuals, partnerships, nonprofits, journalists. It allows anyone to make a request for records of a federal agency. At the Sorenson Law Office, we help people make requests for records handled administrative appeals and judicial reviews. Fundamentally, we only see the really difficult ones. The easier ones are just handled as a matter. People make a request, they get the records, and we don’t hear anything about it. We handle the more difficult ones where federal agencies are not providing the records on time, they’re not providing the records the way they should. FOIA gives citizens and people the opportunity to make sure that these federal agencies follow the law and that they release the records that people are entitled to.

Examples of Federal Agencies Under FOIA

Some examples of agencies that are under FOIA. Well, first of all, they have to be federal agencies, so we’re not talking about state agencies or local agencies, we’re talking about federal agencies. But as an example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the FBI is the nation’s premier federal law enforcement agency, and they handled major investigations, but quite a bit broader than most people imagine. And so a lot of requests go to the FBI. Another example would be the Coast Guard, where a Coast Guard is involved in a lot of different activities, and we’ve handled requests involving the Coast Guard. 

What they do and the public’s right to know about the Coast Guard. We’ve also had requests for records from the Food and Drug Administration there, the agency that handles the approval of medicine in the United States. Very controversial. And oftentimes scientists and public interest groups want to get records about what the FDA knows about the medicines that they’re approving. So those are just a couple of examples of federal agencies with lots of records. And it may affect you and may affect your organization, your business, your nonprofit, or your journalistic activity.

Federal Agencies Not Covered under FOIA

Although most federal agencies are covered by FOIA. There are a number of agencies that are not covered by FOIA. Among them would be the U.S. Congress. They exempted themselves from FOIA. The U.S. court system, the Congress exempted the U.S. court system. The president and the senior White House staff all exempted from foil, as well as any international organization to which the United States belongs, such as the United Nations, such as the International Boundary Commission. Only the U.S. government employees that are doing what we normally think of as the regular work of a government employee are subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

Examples for FOIA Requests

Here are some examples of some FOIA requests. A family wanted to know about their father, who was a CIA agent. It took us a while, but we eventually got the records for the sisters who wanted to know about their dad and his work with the CIA. A more high level example is a journalist asked us to help her get information for her book. And it was about the Food and Drug Administration and their inspection or lack of inspection of the drugs that were produced in India that are used for Americans and our medicines. That book became the “Bottle of Lies”, and it was on the New York Times bestseller list. 

Here’s another example. We’ve helped people get records from a variety of federal agencies on themselves. You’re entitled to get records on yourself when a federal agency has records on you. So if you have questions on how to navigate the FOIA process, please feel free to give me a call and be happy to talk with you.