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Freedom of Information Act

How to Use This Home Page

Enacted in 1966, the Freedom of Information Act established for the first time an effective statutory right of access to government information. Congress has amended the statute several times, most recently in 1996. The Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 1996 (Electronic FOIA amendments) addressed the subject of electronic records, as well as the subject areas of FOIA reading rooms and agency backlogs of FOIA requests, among other procedural provisions.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has developed this FOIA Home Page to answer questions about the statute and to guide users on how to obtain information from the Department's various components. You will find on this Web Site the DOJ FOIA Reference Guide, which provides general information about the FOIA and the Privacy Act of 1974 (a separate federal statute). It also provides information about the Department of Justice's procedures for making a FOIA or Privacy Act request, as well as descriptions of the records maintained and routinely made available by the Department's many different components. In addition, Attachment C of the Reference Guide contains descriptions of the Department's major information systems, arranged both alphabetically and on a component-by-component basis. The DOJ FOIA Regulations, which are published in the Federal Register, reflect the changes made by the Electronic FOIA amendments, including the requirements for persons who seek expedited treatment of their requests.

The texts of both the FOIA and the Privacy Act of 1974 also may be accessed from this site. The Department of Justice, primarily through the Office of Information and Privacy (OIP), encourages governmentwide compliance with the FOIA. OIP publishes the DOJ Freedom of Information Act Guide and the DOJ Privacy Act Overview, the latter in coordination with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which is responsible for governmentwide guidance on the Privacy Act. The "FOIA Guide" and the "Privacy Act Overview" analyze court decisions and discuss statutory and policy requirements regarding these statutes. One also will find archived issues of FOIA Update, a newsletter containing FOIA information and guidance for federal agencies that was published by OIP from 1979-2000. As of 2001, this function is served by FOIA Post, a Web-based means of governmentwide FOIA information dissemination. OIP recommends that "FOIA Post" be bookmarked for this purpose.

Because each Department of Justice component processes its own FOIA requests at the initial level, one should consult the List of Individual DOJ Components and FOIA Contacts to determine the name(s) and address(es) of the person(s) to whom a FOIA or Privacy Act request should be sent. For convenience, a separate list of Principal FOIA Contacts at Federal Agencies also is available on this site. One may access Other Federal Agencies' FOIA Web Sites as well.

In accordance with the provisions of the Electronic FOIA amendments, the Department of Justice makes available on this single World Wide Web site all federal agencies' Annual FOIA Reports. Beginning with fiscal year 1998, these reports provide specific data on each agency's processing of FOIA requests, including the median number of days it takes to process such requests, the number of FOIA requests pending at the end of the fiscal year, and the costs associated with FOIA administration. These reports are organized first by fiscal year and then alphabetically by federal departments and other agencies. From this site, one also may access all DOJ Annual FOIA Reports since calendar year 1995.

The Electronic FOIA amendments require that agencies make certain records created by the agency on or after November 1, 1996 automatically available in electronic form. These are so-called "reading room" records, which consist of "final opinions" rendered in the adjudication of administrative cases, specific agency policy statements, and certain administrative staff manuals. The amendments also added a fourth category of records that must be made available. This category consists of any records processed and disclosed in response to a FOIA request that "the agency determines have become or are likely to become the subject of subsequent requests for substantially the same records." Under this provision, when records are disclosed in response to a FOIA request, an agency is required to determine if they have become the subject of subsequent FOIA requests or, in the agency's best judgment based upon the nature of the records and the types of requests regularly received, are likely to be the subject of multiple requests in the future. If either is the case, then those records in their FOIA-processed form become "reading room" records to be made automatically available to potential FOIA requesters. These "reading room" records may be accessed through FOIA Reading Rooms, which is broken down by individual Department of Justice component.

Finally, certain other information about the FOIA and the Privacy Act may be found in Reference Materials. Included are the publication "Your Right to Federal Records," prepared by the General Services Administration together with the Department of Justice; "A Citizen's Guide on Using the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act of 1974 to Request Government Records," published by the United States House of Representatives; and the FOIA policy memorandum issued by Attorney General Ashcroft on October 12, 2001.

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