Freedom of Information Act

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Freedom of information in the United States also Freedom of Information Act or FOIA refers to the independent bodies of Freedom of information legislation at the federal level and in the fifty states.

Federal level

The federal government is bound by several laws intended to promote openness in government. However, these normally apply only to federal bodies, leaving many institutions exempt compared to their counterparts in other countries.

Federal legislation

The most important was the Freedom of Information Act, signed into law on July 4, 1966 by President Lyndon Johnson.

Miscellaneous Authoritative Federal Sources

Executive Order 13233, drafted by Alberto R. Gonzales and issued by George W. Bush on November 1, 2001 is used to limit the FOIA by restricting access to the records of former presidents.

Executive Order 13392: Improving Agency Disclosure of Information

U.S. Attorney General Memorandums


The Holder Memo is part of series of policy memos on how federal agencies should apply FOIA exemptions. Beginning in 1977 with Attorney General Griffin Bell, and continued by Attorney General William French Smith in 1981 and Attorney General Janet Reno in 1993, U.S. Dept. of Justice (DOJ) has announced how the executive branch should approach FOIA, its application, and DOJ's defense of agency's actions. In other words, DOJ’s position on when they would defend in a FOIA suit has seesawed for about the last three decades.

Reno Memo

The Reno Memo [1] established a "presumption" in favor of disclosure by providing that "it shall be the policy of the Department of Justice to defend the assertion of a FOIA exemption only in those cases where the agency reasonably foresees that disclosure would be harmful to an interest protected by that exemption." It encouraged all government agencies to review FOIA requests in a manner most favorable to openness and to release information, even though it might fall within one of the nine exemption categories, if no “foreseeable harm” would result from the disclosure. The goal was to achieve the “maximum responsible disclosure.”

Ashcroft Memo

On October 12, 2001, Attorney General (AG) John Ashcroft issued a policy memorandum on FOIA to all federal executive agencies. The AG declared the Department of Justice (DOJ) would defend agencies’ decisions to withhold documents from a FOIA requester under one of the statute's exemptions "unless they lack a sound legal basis or present an unwarranted risk of adverse impact on the ability of other agencies to protect other important records."

The Ashcroft Memorandum reversed the Reno standard. Agencies were told that in making discretionary FOIA decisions they should carefully consider the fundamental values behind the exemptions – national security, privacy, government’s interests, etc. – and to lean in their favor whenever possible. The Ashcroft Memo [2] with its "sound legal basis" standard encouraged (or at least seemed to support) greater use of FOIA exemptions by federal agency personnel.

AG Holder Memo

The Ashcroft Memo was rescinded by Attorney General Eric Holder on March 14, 2009. The AG Holder Memo appears to have reinstated the Reno Memo standard and extends the policy. The policy of the executive branch is to be open, responsive, transparent, and accountable. The current memo encourages the maximum disclosure possible in discretionary exemptions and to, whenever possible, reasonably segregate exempt information and release the rest.

State legislation

All 50 states, the District of Columbia, and some territories have some form of freedom of information legislation that governs documents at the state and local (cities, counties, school districts) level.

The provisions of these state laws vary significantly with respect to issues such as the time period within which an agency must provide the requested documents, how much an agency is allowed to charge for providing documents, whether the state government provides an ombudsman, whether the document requestor must give a reason for wanting the documents, and so on.

Among the most extensive are Florida's Sunshine Laws.

In Ohio, the Freedom of Information Act falls under the Ohio Open Meetings Law (Section 121.22 of the Ohio Revised Code), and the Ohio Open Records Law (O.R.C. Section 149.43). The Law was enacted in 1963 by the Ohio General Assembly and allows for any Ohio citizen access to public pertaining government documents. In the state of Ohio all meetings and deliberations are public affairs unless specifically exempted by Law. [1]

Open records

The first open records law was passed in Wisconsin shortly after it became a state in 1848. A number of states passed their open records legislation in the 1970s in the wake of Watergate.

Open meetings

Florida was the first state to pass an open meetings law in 1967. While all of the other states also have such a law, their exact provisions vary; 41 states require advance notice of meetings, 37 states are required to take and publish minutes of every meeting, and in 31 states actions or decisions are only recognized as official if decided upon during an open meeting.

Specific legislation may require that all government meetings be open to the public, or that written records be released upon request. The usual intent of these laws is to enable citizens and journalists to examine government activity to detect political corruption, or to allow them to have input into government decisions that affect them. Many consider strong laws guaranteeing freedom of information to be vitally important to journalism, especially investigative journalism.

In 2002, Investigative Reporters and Editors, in conjunction with the Better Government Association, conducted a comparison of the relative strengths of each state's open records laws. Their overall conclusion noted, "Unfortunately, state FOI laws have proven to be almost uniformly weak and easy to undermine."

See also



  1. A text of the Ohio Open Records Law can be found at

External links

Part of this article consists of modified text from Wikipedia, and the article is therefore licensed under GFDL.

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