Freedom of Information in the United States

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The purpose of freedom of information legislation and sunshine laws is to increase the openness and transparency of government.

On a national level, the federal Freedom of Information Act was signed into law on July 4, 1966 by President Lyndon Johnson.

Each state has its own open records legislation that governs documents at the state and local (cities, counties, school districts) level.

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 the Watergate scandal.

The provisions of these state laws vary significantly with respect to issues such as the time period within which a government 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.

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.

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.

Federal legislation

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.

  • Administrative Procedure Act PL 79-404; 1946
  • Freedom of Information Act PL 85-619; 1966
  • Federal Advisory Committee Act PL 92-463; 1972
  • Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 PL 93-344; 1974
  • Government in the Sunshine Act PL 94-409; 1976
  • Inspector General Act PL 95-452; 1978
  • Ethics in Government Act PL 95-521; 1978
  • Presidential Records Act PL 95-591; 1978

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.

State legislation

All 50 states have some form of freedom of information legislation, as does Washington, D.C. and some of the territories.

In 2002, IRE (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."

The Marion Brechner Citizen Access Project, part of the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida, also keeps comparative information on freedom of information laws in each state.

A WikiFoia was initiated in 2007 to allow collaboration in building a knowledge base about state-level open records legislation.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press publishes an "Open Government Guide" reviewing open records and open meetings laws in each state.

Frequent topics of FoI requests

  • Military or Intelligence operations
  • UFOs
  • Law enforcement
  • Corruption

External links

This article was taken and modified from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia under the GNU license