FOI in Action

People in and out of the news business use state and federal Freedom of Information laws constantly to find out what’s happening in their communities and to hold public officials accountable.

FOIA in Action: The Sunshine in Government Initiative maintains a Tumblr called “Without FOIA” that highlights many of the important news stories that wouldn’t have been possible without access to information. SGI also maintains a searchable database of more than 700 FOIA-driven stories called “The FOIA Files.”

Filing a FOIA request: There are numerous online tools for easily filing and tracking FOIA requests that can be used by journalists and the public alike. Resources include:

FOIA History: To learn more about the history of the Freedom of Information Act, which was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 4, 1966, read CJ Ciaramella’s excellent report, first published by Pacific Standard in time for the law’s 50th anniversary, “The Freedom of Information Act — and the Hero Who Pioneered It“:

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) turns 50 years old on July 4, 2016. The landmark bill, signed into law by a reluctant Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966, gave the public unprecedented access to government documents. Like many great American contributions to democracy, it was the project of a lone crusader, opposed by the leading politicians of the day until it finally became law, then fully embraced on paper but never more than half-realized in reality.

And the Swedes beat us to the idea by 200 years.

Nevertheless, the FOIA and its state-level progeny have been used by journalists to uncover everything from how many cans of vanilla Ensure the government bought to force-feed detainees at Guantanamo Bay to who’s having the loudest sex in New York City. Read any big news investigation and you’re likely to come across the phrase “according to records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.”

None of this would have been possible without John E. Moss, a backbench Democratic congressman from California who labored for 12 years, and often against his own party, to get the bill passed.

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