Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests are a simple and powerful tool that can be used to release public records from various government agencies, and can be particularly useful in investigating Occupy evicitions and harassment. On this page, you’ll find various resources to help you file effective and successful FOIA requests.
Remember: be patient but aggressive and don’t give up, no matter what the government throws at you.
If you have questions, comments or suggestions for this page, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Please keep us updated on the status of your FOIA requests at http://action.firedoglake.com/page/s/occupy-foia
FOIA best practices/resources helpfully compiled by FOIA specialist Kevin Baron and Truthout.org journalist Jason Leopold.
- How to file FOIA Requests
- FOIA Presentation
- Recommended Agencies to FOIA for Occupy
- Useful Links/Resources
Step 1: Initial Request
- Determine the agency or agencies from which you want to file a request for documents.
» See our list of recommended agencies.
- FOIA requests are delivered in the form of a letter.
» See sample FOIA request letters.
- File both electronic and hard copies of requests, appeals and correspondence whenever possible
- Pay close attention to formatting (online samples are helpful). Be sure to:
- State that the request is being made under the Freedom of Information Act (or appropriate state FOI law)
- Identify the records, or at the very least the nature of the records, being sought
- Include your contact information
- Indicate that you are an individual and the request is for noncommercial purposes; individuals are subject to cost exemptions that commercial entities are not
- State how much you are willing to pay; tell them to notify you if the cost will exceed that amount
- Ask that all communications regarding the request come to you in writing. If possible do not talk about the request on the phone and never agree to anything on the phone; get all agreements in writing
- Be clear in what you are asking
- Note that you need not know the specific nature of what you are requesting (frequently you will not). However, the more specific you can be, the better (referencing specific documents, meetings, government actions, events, etc.). This will limit delays, counter-requests from the government and other stalling tactics
- Remember FOIA is a cycle; the standard statutory time response is 20 business days
- Government agencies have to supply an estimated date of completion for FOIA requests under Section 552(a)(7)(B) of FOIA. Ask for the mandatory response deadline from the agency you are filing a request with
Step 2: Response: Non-response, clarification, or refusal
- Remember 20 business day response time
- If after initial request you receive no response file a non-response appeal:
- State that the statutory time limit has expired
- Note the date of original request
- State that this is a “non-response appeal”
- Threaten legal action if need be
- If you receive a response, respond accordingly
- If they say they need more time, there should be no charge
- If they ask for clarification, respond with clarification
- If you are refused prepare an appeal letter. Appeal instructions should be included in government’s response; if not, make sure to ask:
- Address any and all issues provided as to why you cannot have the information; respond with explanation of why you can. If they reference the nine FOIA exemptions see if they are accurate and address them if they are not
- Do not let them get away with anything, they will try to confuse with “precedents”
- Another tactic is to FOIA the FOIA process. If the agency is blocking your request, FOIA their preparatory documents to reveal how they were dealing with your initial request
- If you are directed to go to another agency, do so, but do not give up your request with the first agency
Step 3: File Suit
- If your appeal is refused file suit
- The agency you have requested information from will inform you when you have exhausted all administrative actions
- At this point, file suit in the nearest federal court
- They will capitulate – your lawyers fees will be reimbursed
- You can also represent yourself pro se
Download Kevin and Jason’s presentation on FOIA best practices:
- Governor’s Office
- State Police
- State Legislature
- Visit Sunshine Review to see FOIA laws/info by individual state.
- Mayor’s Office
- Local Police
- City Council
- Department/Board of Public Works
- First Amendment Center – How to file a FOIA request; includes basic steps and tips for filing a FOIA request
- Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press – FOIA Letter Generator; includes sample form letters for initial requests, appeals, etc.
- FOIA Advocates – Another FOIA information group. Also includes form letters and other helpful resources about the FOIA process
- FOIA.gov – U.S. Government’s official FOIA site. Contains statistics, how-tos, FAQs, etc
- Society of Professional Journalists FOI headquarters – Includes FOI Blog, FOI info by state, contact info for SPJ FOI specialists
- Partnership for Civil Justice Fund Request – FOIA request letter asking for information pertaining to Occupy Wall Street evictions.
- David Goodner FOI request – FOI request for FBI actions related to Occupy Iowa.
- Occupy Crackdown: CIA plays new version of “I Won’t Tell You. – Response from CIA for Occupy request.
- Links to Jason’s work with FOIA requests: