Freedom of Information Act
The public has a right to information concerning the activities of its government. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requires all Federal Agencies to conduct their activities in an open manner and to have a system for providing the public with the maximum amount of accurate and timely information allowed by law. Agencies commonly have a FOIA office for processing public requests for information.
The FOIA allows nine exemptions from this mandatory release policy. The purpose of the exemptions is to preclude the unauthorized disclosure of information that requires protection. These exemption categories reflect laws, executive orders, regulations, or court decisions that either require or permit protection of certain classes of information. The exemption categories, in turn, also help define information that may be protected. For example, Department of Defense Regulation 5200.1-R defines For Official Use Only information as "unclassified information that may be exempt from mandatory release to the public under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)."
DoD Regulation 5200.1-R, Appendix C, describes the nine FOIA exemptions as written below. The wording reflects the history of court decisions interpreting the Freedom of Information Act and, therefore, differs from the language of the act itself. To be exempt from mandatory release, information must fit into one of the following categories and there must be a legitimate government purpose served by withholding it.
Statutory/Regulatory Responsibilities & Obligations
FOIA requires agencies to promulgate policies to implement the requirements of the act and to publish these policies in the Federal Register. Each agency is responsible for establishing an appropriate administrative system to manage the FOIA.
The act has no requirements for protection of information. It only permits withholding information from disclosure, when appropriate.
When a FOIA request seeks public release of information held under exemption 4 (commercial information provided to the government on a confidential basis), the responsible government agency must determine whether the public's right to know outweighs the company's right to protection of proprietary information. If the agency determines that the information should be released under FOIA, Executive Order 12600 requires that the company be advised and be given an opportunity to present its arguments for continued protection before the information is released.
Any person who believes the federal government is withholding information from the public improperly may bring legal action against the responsible agency. District Courts of the United States have jurisdiction to enforce the requirements of this law by declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, or other relief as may be appropriate.
Legal & Regulatory