Illinois FOIA procedures
Each state varies slightly in the procedures used to gain access to public documents. This article serves to describe specifically the steps used in Illinois. To read the history and details of Illinois’ sunshine laws please see Illinois Freedom of Information Act
How to request public records in Illinois
The Illinois law that went into effect January 1, 2010 required that all public bodies nominate an official FOIA records keeper and all official records keepers attend the training on the new law provided by the attorney general. Records requests should be directed to this individual, and all offices should be able to readily direct a individual making a request to their new records custodian.
Purpose and use
5 ILCS 140(1) says that the Illinois FOIA law is not supposed to be used to:
- Further a commercial enterprise.
- Violate individual privacy.
- Disrupt the day-to-day working of the public body.
This wording could be taken to imply that record custodians of public documents in the state have the right to ask a requestor why he or she wants the records, because the wording implies that a government agent has the right to deny records to someone whose purpose in obtaining the records is to use the records for commercial reasons, to violate someone's privacy or to disrupt the day-to-day working of the public body.
However, in 1997, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that this wording, since it is only in the preamble to the Illinois sunshine law, is a "declaration of policy" with "no substantive legal force."
In Family Life League v. Department of Public Aid, a 1986 decision of the Illinois Supreme Court, the court said that the Illinois FOIA law does not require that people requesting information under the act explain why they want it or what they plan to do with it.
There are five districts in the Illinois Appellate Court. Rulings in three of the districts agree that the purpose of the requestor is irrelevant.
- In People ex rel. Ulrich v. Stukel (1997), the court said, "...as long as the particular request is not barred under the Act's exemptions, the purpose of the requestor in making his request is irrelevant."
- In Lieber v. Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University (2000), the court said, "...for purposes of disclosure, the court should not concern itself with the plaintiff's purpose in requesting the information."
Who may request public records?
Anyone may request public documents in Illinois. All "persons are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government." 5 ILCS 140(2)(b) defines a "person" as "any individual, corporation, partnership, firm, organization or association, acting individually or as a group."
- See also: How much do public records cost?
Government agencies are allowed to set fees that are "reasonably calculated to reimburse its actual cost for reproducing and certifying public records and for the use, by any person, of the equipment of the public body to copy records."
- "Such fees shall exclude the costs of any search for and review of the record." (See Sunshine laws and search fees).
- The fees "shall not exceed the actual cost of reproduction and certification, unless otherwise provided by State statute."
- "Such fees shall be imposed according to a standard scale of fees, established and made public by the body imposing them."
- The law doesn't say anything about whether fees must be paid in advance, leaving specific agencies free to set their own policies with regard to the timing of payments.
- If any agency is found to have purposefully imposed a fee that is inconsistent with the law, this imposition is to be considered a denial of the request for purposes of judicial review.
The governing statute is 5 ILCS 140/6, from Ch. 116, par. 206.
For internet access
In 2000, the Illinois Attorney General issued an opinion that said that if county recorders place public information on a website, they are not allowed to charge a fee for access to those online records.
Government agencies are required to waive or reduce the fee under these conditions:
- If a request for documents states the specific purpose for the request.
- If the request indicates that a waiver or reduction of fees is in the public interest.
- A request is thought to be in "the public interest" if the principal purpose of the request is to access and disseminate information regarding the health, safety and welfare or the legal rights of the general public, and not principally for personal or commercial benefit.
It is up to the public body itself to determine whether a particular request meets these conditions.
- See also: Request response times by state
Government agencies must either comply with or deny a written request for public records within five working days after receiving it. The five-day rule goes into effect on January 1, 2010. Prior to then, the legal response time is seven days.
Under 5 ILCS 140/3(d), the 5-working-day time limit can be extended for 5 additional working days under these circumstances:
- If the requested records are stored in whole or in part at other locations than the office having charge of the requested records;
- If the request requires the collection of a substantial number of specified records;
- If the request is couched in categorical terms and requires an extensive search for the records responsive to it;
- If the requested records have not been located in the course of routine search and additional efforts are being made to locate them;
- If the requested records require examination and evaluation by personnel having the necessary competence and discretion to determine if they are exempt from disclosure under the exemption provisions of the Act or should be revealed only with appropriate deletions;
- If the request for records cannot be complied with by the public body within the 7-working-days time limit without unduly burdening or interfering with the operations of the public body;
- If there is a need for consultation, which must be conducted with all practicable speed, with another public body or among two or more components of a public body having a substantial interest in the determination or in the subject matter of the request.
- New Illinois Law
- Illinois Attorney General "Ensuring Open and Honest Government" webpage
- Illinois Freedom of Information Act
- Open Government Guide to Illinois
- Illinois Compiled Statutes, 5 ILCS 140/
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