What’s the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)?

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a federal law establishing the public’s right to obtain information from federal government files. Any person, including a noncitizen, can file a FOIA request for a copy of a government agency’s file.

FOIA tries to strike a balance between the need for protection of sensitive government information and the interests of private individuals, who have an inherent right to known what the government knows about them.

There are nine exemptions to the FOIA. These exemptions allow government to withhold information from individuals. They include, for example, information to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy, trade secrets, and information which if released would invade another’s personal privacy.

FOIA applies only to federal government agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of State (DOS).

If the government agency refuses without proper justification to release information that an individual has a right to know, the FOIA makes it possible to sue the agency for damages.

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