Sorry, that’s not a FOIA request!*

“I filed a FOIA request!” It feels good to say that, doesn’t it? Well, I hate to tell you, but you probably didn’t file a real Freedom of Information Act request.

The FOIA only applies to federal agencies. If you ask for documents from your local or state government, then you need to file a public records request. Each state has its own law, and Florida is known as one of the best in the nation when it comes to providing access to public records.

Even though you can’t technically file a federal FOIA with a local or state government agency, you’ll probably get the info you requested anyway. Most officials know what you mean.

Still, it’s important to understand the difference between federal FOIA and public records laws. You don’t want some geek like me cringing when you brag about your latest FOIA request to such-and-such state agency 🙂

If you don’t believe me, then check out this line from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Web site:

“The FOIA applies only to federal agencies and does not create a right of access to records held by Congress, the courts, or by state or local government agencies. Each state has its own public access laws that should be consulted for access to state and local records.”

*Update: joshualmeyer posted a great comment below, and he is correct that some states use the FOIA acronym in their law. I should have specified that in North Carolina, where I live, and in many other states, it is known as a public records law. No matter what you call it, I hope you will keep filing requests and digging up documents 🙂


One comment

  1. Your statement from the department of justice is implicitly referring to the actual Federal FOIA act, not the phrase “Freedom of Information Act” or “FOIA”. Actually, a lot of states employ the FOIA acronym and language in their own public records laws. States including Connecticut, Delaware, Michigan, South Carolina and West Virginia all refer to their laws as the Freedom of Information Act and thus reporters and citizens looking for documents in those states do in fact file a FOIA request. In addition I think because of the precedent setting power of federal law, the acronym FOIA and the phrase Freedom of Information has become associated with transparency and not just the Federal act. However, a while back I did run into this interesting records debacle involving a denial based around the language used to cite the Virginia law.

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