The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), allows individuals to access public records within the various governmental agencies and departments on Federal, State and local levels. The Freedom of Information Act is intended to provide a sense of transparency between the public and governing entities. However, the Freedom of Information Act has also become a vital tool for members of the press and private investigators. There are several important laws, governing the ability to access information that vary within the federal government, each state and local governments. Each governing entity lists basic statutes in regards to records and open meeting policies. Several states actually have various statutes, with exemptions.
All 50 states have a variant of a Freedom of Information (FOI) law granting the public the right to access records and keep track of government actions. Information available can range from municipal capital budgets and school boards expenditures to recent law amendments and resolutions.
The National Freedom of Information Coalition provides accurate and current information on a State-by-State basis online. To View Freedom of Information Laws in a specific State, please visit: nfoic.org
Interesting Cases where the Freedom of Information benefited the General Public:
In 2005, the Associated Press discovered a significant portion of the $5 billion designated for post-September 11 small business loans went to companies outside of New York and Washington DC. The loan records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, showed that only 11 percent of the 19,000 loans were issued to companies in New York City and Washington. The Freedom of Information Act uncovered the source of the funds and that most of these businesses had no idea (allegedly) that they were receiving terrorism recovery loans by the Small Business Administration.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a series of Freedom of Information Act requests to the FBI over the Patriot Act. They uncovered a chain of e-mails between FBI agents complaining about public backlash over the Patriot Act. The emails discussed a group of angry librarians, known as the “Radical Militant Librarians” who believed the terms of the Patriot Act, allowing government agents to inspect reading lists and reference materials by individuals under investigation and prohibiting Librarians from telling patrons that material about them has been requested to be unjust. It was this correspondence, that led to nationwide news coverage of the Patriot Act tracking reading habits to identify potential terror threats.
The Freedom of Information Act has been used to benefit the average connoisseur of the finer things as well. In 2012, a Reddit blogger with a love for good beer, used the FOIA to request the White House’s recipe for Honey Ale and Honey Porter. In addition to getting the recipe, the Reddit Blogger uncovered the story behind the Honey Ale. In 2011, President Obama became fascinated with the the home-brewing movement. POTUS even paid for a home brewing kit with his own money. But, the White House Chef would brew the President small batches of the beer upon his request. We’re told the secret to the Honey Porter is Honey from the White House Beehive on the South Lawn, which was incidentally, the first beehive to be installed on the White House grounds.