Freedom of Information Act

Freedom of Information Act (1966), law requiring that U.S. government agencies release their records to the public on request, unless the information sought falls into a category specifically exempted, such as national security, an individual's right to privacy, or internal agency management. The act provides for court review of agency refusals to furnish identifiable records. The states also have similar laws. The federal government and some states have also adopted so-called sunshine laws that require governmental bodies, as a matter of general policy, to hold open meetings, announced in advance. Presidential papers remained under the control of individual American presidents until 1981, when the Presidential Records Act—enacted by Congress in 1978—took effect. Under it, presidential papers were to be released to the public 12 years after an administration ended. In 2001, however, President George W. Bush signed an executive order that gave a former president or a sitting president the right to prevent the release of a former president's papers to the public. The G. W. Bush administration was also generally more reluctant to release documents under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2023, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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