The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) gives any person the right to request access to records of various agencies in the federal government. The federal agency must disclose the records requested unless the records are protected by one or more of the exemptions found in the FOIA.
The FOIA applies only to federal agencies and does not create a right of access to records held by Congress, the courts, state or local government agencies, private businesses, schools, private organizations, or private individuals.
Please note that, in addition to FOIA’s nine exemptions, Congress also provided special protection in the FOIA for three narrow categories of law enforcement and national security records. The provisions protecting those records are known as “exclusions.” The first exclusion protects the existence of an ongoing criminal law enforcement investigation when the subject of the investigation is unaware that it is pending and disclosure could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings. The second exclusion is limited to criminal law enforcement agencies and protects the existence of informant records when the informant’s status has not been officially confirmed. The third exclusion is limited to the FBI and protects the existence of foreign intelligence or counterintelligence, or international terrorism records when the existence of such records is classified. Records falling within an exclusion are not subject to the requirements of the FOIA. So, when a component responds to your request it will limit its response to those records that are subject to the FOIA.
The FOIA statute can be found at 5 U.S.C. § 552. The Department of Commerce FOIA regulations which implement the statute are found at 15 CFR §§ 4.1~4.11.
Filing a FOIA Request
Online FOIA Request Form
Sample FOIA Request Letter
Additional FOIA Resources