Illinois Freedom of Information Act

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The Illinois Freedom of Information Act, or Illinois FOIA, is a series of laws designed to guarantee that the public has access to public records of government bodies at all levels in Illinois. The law was first enacted in 1984. The latest law was enacted in August 2009, and went into effect on January 1, 2010.

The Illinois Open Meetings Act legislates the methods by which public meetings are conducted.

To learn more about how to make a public records request in this state, please see: Illinois FOIA procedures.


See also: Proposed reforms in state sunshine laws, 2009

HB 1345 (2009)

House Bill 1345 would have amended the Illinois Freedom of Information Act to include settlement financial information that a public body might enter into. HB1345 was referred to the Rules Committee on February 18, 2009.[1]

HB 1370 (2009)

House Bill 1370 was signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn on August 18, 2009.[2][3] HB 1370 does these things:

  • Makes it clear that access to public records improves government transparency.
  • Protects employees from retaliation from their superiors for releasing public information.
  • Permits attorney fees to be paid when access issues go to court.
  • Creates a fine of up to $5,000 for government agencies found to have "willfully and intentionally" failed to comply with the law.
  • Shortens the required response time from seven days to five.
  • Makes the first 25 pages of copies free, and sets a fee of $0.15 per page for any copies after that.
  • Specifies that records should be provided electronically if possible.
  • Gives the Office of the Attorney General of Illinois "sweeping new powers to interpret what records are public and settle disputes" over FOIA requests.[3]

HB1370 was sponsored by Michael J. Madigan, Barbara Flynn Currie, Jim Watson, Paul D. Froehlich. Attorney General Lisa Madigan pushed for its passage.[4]

Requested reforms

In November 2008, The State Journal-Register asked in an editorial, "How many stories have to be written about Illinois’ broken Freedom of Information Act before Attorney General Lisa Madigan proposes an overhaul?"

The newspaper cited as areas for reform:

  • Limits on how much public agencies can charge for records.
  • Ending a practice whereby those who request records are charged less if they cite the Illinois FOIA law in their request, versus those who do not cite the law in their request. The newspaper cites a case where mention of the law gained a requestor a 94% reduction in fees.
  • Curtailing the practice of requiring groups to get court orders to obtain public records.
  • "The General Assembly has gummed up the FOIA law with so many exemptions, it’s nearly impossible to interpret with any clarity which records are subject to it."
  • "It’s been six years since Madigan campaigned on a promise to reform the law. It’s been 19 months since this newspaper’s award-winning series, 'Request Denied,' showed how the public — not just pesky newspaper reporters — is not being served by a toothless and loophole-laden law. It’s been 14 months since Madigan told the Illinois Press Association, 'Let me be clear: I am committed to legislatively reforming the Freedom of Information Act.'"[5]


On February 23, 2009, The Springfield State Journal-Register editorialized in favor of altering the law to impose fines on government officials who willfully evade its requirements. They wrote, "Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s idea to impose fines on Illinois governments that do not follow the state’s Freedom of Information law must be the first priority in any rewrite of the law."[6]

Transparency report card

A 2008 study, BGA - Alper Integrity Index, conducted by the Better Government Association and sponsored by Alper Services, ranked Illinois #11 in the nation (along with Arizona and West Virginia) with an overall percentage of 58.00%.[7]

A 2007 study, Graded state responsiveness to FOI requests, conducted by BGA and the NFOIC, gave Illinois 59 points out of a possible 100, a letter grade of "F" and a ranking of 13 out of the 50 states.[8]

A 2002 study, Freedom of Information in the USA, conducted by IRE and BGA, ranked Illinois's law as the 26th worst in the country, giving it a letter grade of "C-".[9]

Features of the law

Sunshine variations Compare States: Sunshine variations
Click on the heading to compare your state's law to other state's transparency laws.

Declared legal intention

See also: Declared legal intentions across the U.S.

The Illinois FOIA is based on an assertion in the statute that access to "full and complete information regarding the affairs of government" is "necessary to enable the people to fulfill their duties of discussing public issues fully and freely, making informed political judgments and monitoring government to ensure that it is being conducted in the public interest."[10]

The new law

The 2009 law added a number of measures to the Illinois FOIA law greatly strengthening it. The law requires each public agency to nominate an officer to be the official keeper of public records. Further, all of these nominated individuals must complete the online training course established by the attorney general. The act also gave the Attorney General's office the power to review and issue decisions on FOIA requests prior to trial. The law also added strong new enforcement policies.[11]

What records are covered?

See also: Defining public records

ILCS 140(2)(c) defines public records as "all records, reports, forms, writings, letters, memoranda, books, papers, maps, photographs, microfilms, cards, tapes, recordings, electronic data processing records, recorded information and all other documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, having been prepared, or having been or being used, received, possessed or under the control of any public body."[12]

However, the new Illinois law expands this definition, stating:
All records in the custody or possession of a public body are presumed to be open to inspection or copying. Any public body that asserts that a record is exempt from disclosure has the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that it is exempt.[13]

What agencies are covered?

See also: Defining public body

The Illinois FOIA includes "all legislative, executive, administrative, or advisory bodies of the State, state universities and colleges, counties, townships, cities, villages, incorporated towns, school districts and all other municipal corporations, boards, bureaus, committees, or commissions of this State, any subsidiary bodies of any of the foregoing including but not limited to committees and subcommittees thereof, and a School Finance Authority created under Article 1E of the School Code."[14] However, the law defines a number of exemptions.

  • Child death review teams established under the Child Death Review Team Act are explicitly excluded from the law's definition of a public body.[15]


Deliberative process exemption

See also: Deliberative process exemption and Deliberative process exemption - Illinois


See also: Legislatures and transparency

The Illinois Freedom of Information Act includes the Illinois state legislature, though it does contain exemption for working papers and preliminary drafts and opinions under a deliberative process clause.[16]

Private governmental agencies

See also: Private agency, public dollars and Private agency, public dollars - IllinoisThe Illinois law contains no statutes or definitions which would incorporate privatized government agencies.[17]

Public universities

See also: Universities and open records

The definition of public body explicitly includes "state universities and colleges" under the definition of public body found at ILCS 140(2)(a). However, this definition has limitations placed on it at ILCS 140(7)(j), which exempts examination information, peer reviewed faculty evaluations, student disciplinary matters if they reveal the name of the student, and course and research materials used by faculty members.

Who may request records?

See also: List of who can make public record requests by state

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."[18]

Must a purpose be stated?

See also: States requiring a statement of purpose

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.

How can records be used?

See also: Record use restrictions

The act explicitly state that, "This Act is not intended to cause an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, nor to allow the requests of a commercial enterprise to unduly burden public resources, or to disrupt the duly‑undertaken work of any public body independent of the fulfillment of any of the fore‑mentioned rights of the people to access to information."[19] However, the law makes no specific restrictions on ways that public documents can be used once someone has obtained the documents. In addition it does not prevent requests being made for commercial purposes.[20]

Time allowed for response

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 went into effect on January 1, 2010. Prior to that, the legal response time was seven days.

Under 5 ILCS 140/3(d), the five-working-day time limit can be extended for five 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.

Fees for records

See also: How much do public records cost? and Sunshine laws and search fees

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."

The governing statute is 5 ILCS 140/6, from Ch. 116, par. 206.


  • 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.[21]

Fees shall exclude the costs of any search for and review of the record.[22]

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.

Fee waivers

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.


The new Freedom of Information Act added some additional force to the Illinois FOIA, creating fines of up to $5,000 for agencies who knowingly violate open records laws. The law also eliminated the chance for agencies to charge fees for copying if they fail to meet the records request within the time limits.[23]

State records commissions

See also: State records commissions and Illinois Public Access Counselor

The 2009 FOIA revisions established the role of the Illinois Public Access Counselor as a position under the Office of the attorney general.

Open meetings

See also: Illinois Open Meetings Act

"The intent of this [Illinois Open Meetings Act] is to ensure that the actions of public bodies be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly."[24]

See also

External links


Relevant legal cases

See also: Court cases with an impact on state FOIA and Illinois sunshine lawsuits

Here is a list of lawsuits in Illinois (cases are listed alphabetically; to order them by year, please click the icon to the right of the "year" heading).

Lawsuit Year
AFSCME v. Cook County 1990
Board of Regents of the Regency University System v. Reynard 1997
Carrigan v. Harkrader 1986
Duncan Publishing v. City of Chicago 1999
Family Life League v. Department of Public Aid 1986
Kenyon v. Garrels 1989
Lieber v. Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University 1996
Mark O. Stern v. Wheaton-Warrenville Community Unity School District 200 2009
People ex. rel. Gibson v. Peller 1962
People ex rel. Ulrich v. Stukel 1997
Rockford Newspapers Inc. v. Northern Illinois Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency 1978
Roulette v. Department of Central Mgmt. Servs 1986