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Freedom of Information Questions

What is the Freedom of Information Act?

The Freedom of Information Act is a federal law that permits people to view information and documents that are controlled by the United States government. President Lyndon Johnson signed the act into law on July 4, 1966 and the law went into effect the next year.

There is Freedom of Information Acts (FOIA) which is passed by individual states. While there are similarities in the state FOIA, they are not exact and shouldn't be confused with the Federal Freedom of Information Act.

Due to the ever growing belief that American citizens had constitutional and inherent rights, many believed that government information should be made available to the public upon request. While it was understood that the citizens had rights to certain information, there were others who felt that some government information should remain unviewed by the public. Congress moved to enact a Freedom of Information Act that would maintain the requests for certain government records on the "Right to Know' basis.

Are there fees for FOIA requests and what are the steps to file?

There are three steps to filing a freedom of information request (FOIA). Step 1- While some agencies offer electronic filing, many FOIA request forms must be written. If you have several requests for information, you may consider making a request template that can be used for multiple uses. At the top of your letter, you will need to write Freedom of Information Act Request. This will ensure your request will reach the correct destination. Next you need to list the records or documents that you are wanting in clear concise words. If you are vague, my may not get the desired results that you are hoping for. Also, when you are clear on the information that you are wanting, it will probably cost less for the search. You will also need to state that you will pay the processing fee, but make sure you list the max amount that you are willing to pay. For example, please inform me if the processing fee attached to my request will exceed $25 before processing. I am willing to pay the processing fee if the amount is less than $25. Another option would be to ask that you be called to discuss the processing fee before your request is processed. You will need to list your mail address, day time telephone number and your email address.

Step 2- Finding the agency that would have the information that you are searching for.

This will need to be determined before you file a request. If you are unsure of which agency will have this information, you can follow the link provided and search the list of contact information.

Step 3- Submit the Request

Before you mail your request, make sure all of the information is correct. Also, you may want to check with the agencies and see if they allow for the requests to be received by fax. This will save you postage. If fax options are not available, just mail your request. It generally takes about 30 days for the agencies to respond to the request.

I have requested information under the Freedom of Information Act from the U.S. Department of Education. How long should I wait to receive the information or get a response from them?

The Education department is entitled to take up to 20 days to decide whether or not they will allow your request. This decision is under the 5 United States Code § 552(a) (6) If the education department feels that your request is an unusual circumstance, they will take an extension in the time in which they respond. To get a better understanding of what is meant by "unusual circumstances" you may want to read the code in its entirety.

Under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act, can a person obtain and/or review a police investigation report if the person is not related to the person who is incarcerated?

Typically, the answer to this question would be yes. However, there are certain parts of these records which cannot be viewed. The records that cannot be shown are those that:

interfere with law enforcement proceedings;

deprive a person of the right to a fair trial or impartial administrative Adjudication;

constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy;

disclose the identity of a confidential source or, if the record is compiled by a criminal law enforcement agency in the course of a criminal investigation, disclose confidential information furnished only by a confidential source;

disclose law enforcement investigative techniques or procedures; or

endanger the life or physical safety of law enforcement personnel

If the records don't fall under any of these circumstances and the police refuse to release them, you can file a Writ of Mandamus with the court to have the records released.

A freedom of information request is a form that enables the public to view government files and records. If you have questions pertaining to a FOIA request, you should ask an Expert to assist you in making the right choice for your individual situation.
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