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Journalism: FOIA and FOIL

This guide is a reference tool for students in the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.


What is FOIA? 

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) provides that any person has a right, enforceable in court, to obtain access to federal agency records, except to the extent that such records (or portions of them) are protected from public disclosure by one of nine exemptions or by one of three special law enforcement record exclusions. A FOIA request can be made for any agency record. Before sending a request to a federal agency, you should determine which agency is likely to have the records you are seeking. Each agency’s website will contain information about the type of records that agency maintains.


More information on where to make a FOIA request

Resources and Guides

1. Federal Open Government Guide (published by The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press) Includes letter generator for state and federal agencies.

2. Department of Justice Guide to the FOIA (2009 ed.)

3. Guide to the NY State FOIL, from the Committee on Open Government

4. Your Right to Federal Records: Questions and Answers on the Freedom of Information Act & Privacy Act (2004) (published by the Justice Dept and GSA Federal Citizen Information Center

5. Public Citizen Freedom of Information Clearinghouse

6. Foerstel, Herbert N. Freedom of Information and the Right to Know: The origins and the applications of the Freedom of Information Act. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999. (electronic reference book)

Tools for filing a FOIA request


FOIA Machine

A project to automate and streamline FOIA requests funded by a successful 2013 Kickstarter campaign and the Center for Investigative Reporting. This tool contains the contact information for FOIA-able federal, state, and city agencies, and will help you draft the letter, waive any related fees, and send your request. Create an account for free. 


Records Retention Schedules and FOIA/FOIL

A "records retention schedule" is the key to identifying FOIAable or FOILable documents within an agency. If you know the name of the record or document that you are looking for the chances of your FOIA request succeeding are far higher. To find a record retention schedule, run a Google search for the terms "records retention schedule" and the name of the organization:

"records retention schedule" "new york state department of corrections"

Below are some particularly useful records retention schedules for NYU Journalism students.

Quick Links

FOIA (Freedom of Information Act, U.S.)

1. -- Official site for all FOIA info disclosed by the federal government, including statistics on requests received and filled. Find out how and where to submit your own requests to specific agencies under the "Learn" tab.

2. Public Law 110-175 -- most recent amendment (2007) to the FOIA. See text from the Justice department's site:

Or from LexisNexis Academic:


FOIL (Freedom of Information Law, New York)

1. Text of the law, via the New York State Committee on Open Government


What is FOIL? 


While FOIA covers access to federal government agency records, the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) guarantees access to state and local government records. All fifty states also have freedom of information laws that that govern access to these documents, though the provisions of the state laws vary considerably. 

In New York state, FOIL guarnatees access to a whole host of government agencies. Comonly requested agencies: 


Online FOIL forms for New York City agencies/authorities