- Freedom of information in the United States
The purpose of freedom of information legislation and sunshine laws is to increase the openness and transparency of government.
On a national level, the federal Freedom of Information Act was signed into law on July 4, 1966 by President
Each state has its own open records legislation that governs documents at the state and local (cities, counties, school districts) level.
The first open records law was passed in
Wisconsinshortly after it became a state in 1848. A number of states passed their open records legislation in the 1970s in the wake of Watergate.
The provisions of these state laws vary significantly with respect to issues such as the time period within which an agency must provide the requested documents, how much an agency is allowed to charge for providing documents, whether the state government provides an
ombudsman, whether the document requestor must give a reason for wanting the documents, and so on.
Specific legislation may require that all government meetings be open to the public, or that written records be released upon request. The usual intent of these laws is to enable citizens and
journalists to examine government activity to detect political corruption, or to allow them to have input into government decisions that affect them. Many consider strong laws guaranteeing freedom of information to be vitally important to journalism, especially investigative journalism. Floridawas the first state to pass an open meetings law in 1967. While all of the other states also have such a law, their exact provisions vary; 41 states require advance notice of meetings, 37 states are required to take and publish minutesof every meeting, and in 31 states actions or decisions are only recognized as official if decided upon during an open meeting.
The federal government is bound by several laws intended to promote openness in government. However, these normally apply only to federal bodies, leaving many institutions exempt compared to their counterparts in other countries.
Administrative Procedure ActPL 79-404; 1946
* Freedom of Information Act PL 85-619; 1966
Federal Advisory Committee ActPL 92-463; 1972
* Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act PL 93-344; 1974
Government in the Sunshine ActPL 94-409; 1976
Inspector General ActPL 95-452; 1978
Ethics in Government ActPL 95-521; 1978
Presidential Records ActPL 95-591; 1978 Executive Order 13233, drafted by Alberto R. Gonzalesand issued by George W. Bushon November 1, 2001 is used to limit the FOIA by restricting access to the records of former presidents.
All 50 states, the
District of Columbia, and some territories have some form of freedom of information legislation. Among the most extensive are Florida's Sunshine Laws.
Investigative Reporters and Editors, in conjunction with the Better Government Association, conducted a comparison of the relative strengths of each state's open records laws. Their overall conclusion noted, "Unfortunately, state FOI laws have proven to be almost uniformly weak and easy to undermine."
Marion Brechner Citizen Access Projectof the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communicationskeeps comparative information on freedom of information laws in each state.
A WikiFoia was initiated in 2007 to allow collaboration in building a knowledge base about state-level open records legislation.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Presspublishes an "Open Government Guide" reviewing open records and open meetings laws in each state.
* [http://www.ire.org/foi/bga/ Cross-state comparison of FOIA laws]
* [http://www.wikifoia.org/ The WikiFOIA]
* [http://foi.missouri.edu/index.html The Freedom of Information Center at the University of Missouri]
* [http://www.citizenaccess.org/ The Marion Brechner Citizen Access Project at the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida]
* [http://www.rcfp.org/ogg/index.php The Open Government Guide of the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press]
* [http://www.nfoic.org/ The National Freedom of Information Coalition]
* [http://digital.library.unt.edu/govdocs/crs/search.tkl?q=foia&search_crit=title&search=Search&date1=Anytime&date2=Anytime&type=form Read Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports regarding the Freedom of Information Act]
* [http://www.ago.mo.gov/sunshinelaw/ Missouri Sunshine Law]
* [https://www.ago.mo.gov/cgi-bin/quizzes/SunshineLaw.cgi Missouri Sunshine Law Online Quiz]
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