FOIA 101

Learn about the basics of the Freedom of Information Act.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a law that gives right of access to information from the federal government. President Lyndon Johnson signed FOIA into law on July 4, 1966.

FOIA requires agencies to disclose any information requested under the law unless the information falls under one of nine exemptions. FOIA also requires federal agencies to be proactive in posting certain categories of information online, including frequently requested records.

Any record created or obtained in a normal course of agency business, within an agency’s possession AND control is considered an agency record.

Examples of potential agency records:

  • Emails correspondence
  • Agendas
  • Meeting minutes
  • Podcasts
  • Text messages on governments issued devices
  • Transcripts

Any person, citizen or non-citizen, can make a FOIA request. CDC FOIA has received FOIA requests from the following organizations and/or persons:

  • Large and small law firms
  • Universities
  • News media (national and international)
  • Advocacy groups
  • State organizations
  • Labor unions
  • Hospitals
  • Inmates

A FOIA exemption allows agencies to prevent disclosure for certain categories of information to protect against certain harms, such as an invasion of personal privacy, or harm to law enforcement investigations. Not all records are required to be released under the FOIA.

The nine exemptions are:

Exemption 1 – protects national security information concerning national defense or foreign relations.

Exemption 2 – covers records related solely to internal personnel rules and practices of an agency. Low 2 – trivial requests involving matters of no public interest. High 2 – disclosure would allow circumvention of agency regulations.

Exemption 3 – authorizes withholding of information prohibited from disclosure by another Federal statute .

Exemption 4 – exempts trade secrets and information which is commercial or financial.

Exemption 5 – protects records of a predecisional nature, as necessary. Such records typically contain the opinions, conclusions, or recommendations of the author and are part of the decision-making/deliberative process. Encompasses inter-agency or intra-agency memoranda or documents; attorney-work product; attorney-client communications.

Exemption 6 – provides protection for personal privacy interests; permits withholding documents if disclosure would be a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.

Exemption 7 – protects from mandatory disclosure records compiled for law enforcement proceedings. Protects identities of personal information and confidential sources. Protects records in their entirety on ongoing investigations.

Exemption 8 – covers matters contained in or related to reports prepared by or for use by an agency responsible for regulation of financial institutions.

Exemption 9 – pertains to geological and geophysical information and data concerning wells and includes maps.

Visit FOIAExternal for more information about the nine exemptions.

The FOIA Public Access Link (PAL) is an external and comprehensive electronic tool that provides requesters with basic information on how to get CDC records. PAL allows requesters to submit a FOIA request, check the status of their submitted requests, create an account to track their submitted requests, and access the electronic reading room to search for CDC records across a range of topics.

Page last reviewed: October 12, 2017