Public Records & Government Transparency

Access to Electronic Records

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press offers this state-by-state guide to obtaining government information. Written for journalists, the guide summarizes individual state requirements, including state law, court opinions and access fees. It also provides information about privacy laws, software as public record, post-9/11 restrictions, access to geographic information systems (GIS), and more.

Access to Government Information in the United States

(PDF) This Congressional Research Service (CRS) report examines the history of freedom of information law in the U.S. References to additional related reports appear at the end of the document.

AP and Freedom of Information

The Associated Press makes available this Web site on Freedom of Information. "AP handles more than 40 actions a year to assure that journalists have access to events, proceedings and information." In addition to offering its philosophy on Freedom of Information, the site provides links to current related news stories, resources and an interactive guide to filing FOI requests.

Citizen's Guide On Using The Freedom Of Information Act And The Privacy Act of 1974 To Request Government Records, A

TnCrimLaw, the former Web site of the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, hosts a copy of House Report 105-37 by the Committee on Government Reform and Oversight. Printed on 20 March 1997, the guide explains how to request government records from federal agencies. Several appendixes provide sample request and appeal letters as well as the text of the Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act of 1974. Please note that is publication may contain dated information.

EPIC Open Government

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) offers legal documents, research guides and more pertaining to the Freedom of Information Act. Also find information about current EPIC court challenges under this Act, scanned images of policy documents obtained under the Act, as well as information from the book, Litigation Under the Federal Open Government Laws, 2002.


Eugene, Oregon-based attorneys, David Bahr and Daniel Stotte, offer this resource "designed to assist the public in gaining access to records from federal, state and local governments using the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) as well as state and local public records laws." It provides an introduction to federal FOI law and explains how to make a FOIA request. It discusses fees and exemptions and outlines FOIA litigation. It offers sample request and appeals letters. Visitors will also find links to state public records laws, select federal government agencies and additional FOI resources. It serves as a good starting point for learning about the basics of FOI law.

Freedom of Information Act Guide

The U.S. Department of Justice provides a guide to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) exemptions and law enforcement exclusions. Revised every two years, the guide covers procedural requirements, fees and fee waivers, the national security exemption, the internal personnel practices exemption, federal law nondisclosure exemptions, exemptions regarding trade secrets and confidential information, exemptions concerning privileged documents, personnel and medical file exemptions, law enforcement exemptions, exemptions concerning financial institutions, exemptions concerning wells, exclusions, discretionary disclosure, litigation issues and "reverse" FOIA.

National Freedom of Information Coalition

The University of Missouri School of Journalism maintains the National Freedom of Information Coalition, which houses a collection of more than 1 million articles and documents about access to information at the state, federal and local levels. The Web site provides research guides on the Freedom of Information Act and media law, information about the First Amendment, sample freedom of information act request letters, and more.

Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas

The Foundation's mission "is to encourage, sponsor and facilitate a greater appreciation, knowledge and understanding of the First Amendment." To this end, the organization offers information about several educational programs it sponsors, sample Freedom of Information Act letters, a newsletter, a handbook (for sale) and several links to related Web sites.

Funded by the non-profit group, National Security Archive Fund Inc., this Web site contains information on freedom of information laws, including how they were drafted and implemented and how various provisions have worked in practice. It provides case studies of freedom of information laws in foreign countries, news and more.

Get Grandpa's FBI File

Despite the somewhat facetious name, this is a serious Web site devoted to helping citizens obtain a copy of information about deceased persons on file with the FBI. You fill out a form and the site generates a form FOIA letter, which you mail to the FBI. There is a FAQ that explains why you have to enter personal information when filling out the form. It also explains about fees the agency (but not this Web site) may charge.

Get My FBI File

This Web site helps you generate letters to send to the FBI, or other federal agency, to obtain a copy of your file. A FAQ that explains why you have to enter personal information when filling out the form. It also explains about fees the agency (but not this Web site) may charge.

Federal Open Government Guide

This Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press guide how to obtain federal agency records using the Freedom of Information Act. It provides an introduction to the Act, information about how it works, which agencies are covered, and who may make requests, as well as how to make a formal request and what kind of documents or information is exempted. It also provides sample request and appeal letters. The group updated the guide, now in its 9th edition, during 2004.

Lee v. Delaware

(PDF) This opinion by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals invalidates the section of Delaware freedom of information law that requires state residency. Codified at 29 Del. Code Ann.  10003, the law restricted non-residents' rights to access, inspect and copy public documents.

Marion Brechner Citizen Access Project

The Marion Brechner Citizen Access Project (CAP), a research project of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communication, provides information and resources about freedom of information law in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The project examines the state statutory provisions controlling open meetings and open records, and evaluates relevant state appellate court decisions and constitutional provisions, in order to rate a state's performance in several categories, including, but not limited to, cost of access, access to computer records, email, sex offenders and other types of government information, and procedures for obtaining public information. Also find links to relevant state laws (off-site; be sure to evaluate independently), news articles, a bibliography, related organizations and more.

National Security Archive, The

4 May 2004. George Washington University maintains this archive of declassified U.S. documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. Founded in 1985, the physical Archive is one of the largest non-governmental libraries of declassified documents. The Web site provides access to just a portion of the collection. Organized into "briefing books," the full-text declassified documents cover issues such as national security, foreign policy, diplomatic and military history, intelligence and more. While you can search the Web site, the search engine does not cover the full text of the declassified documents. Rather, it indexes information from the Web pages that describe the documents. We recommend browsing the collection via the "documents" navigational link.

OMB Watch

This watchdog group keeps an eye on the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). It encourages citizen participation in government and promotes government accountability. The Web site covers five broad areas of interest -- the federal budget, regulatory matters, non-profit issues, right to know and taking action. Under the Right To Know tab, you will find documents and information pertaining to electronic government, homeland security, secrecy, environmental right to know and data quality.

Open Doors: Accessing Government Records

The Society of Professional Journalists offers this freedom of information resource, which attempts to address common questions such as how FOI laws work or how they apply to specific situations. To that end, you will find a series of Q&A's on FOI concepts and laws, a report on the role of FOI in daily news coverage, a list of specific subjects applicable to FOI laws and where to find the corresponding records, and FOI resources. While designed especially for journalists, anyone searching for public information will find the resource useful.

Open Government: A Journal on Freedom of Information

Funded by the School of Business Information at Liverpool John Moores University, Open Government is an open-access peer reviewed journal on freedom of information. It publishes full-text articles with abstracts in PDF. Access is free.

Open The Government

Several organizations, including the American Association of Law Libraries and American Library Association, form this coalition to combat government secrecy. The Web site provides updates and reports by coalition partners, an experts directory and an analysis of current policies and practices. It also offers a resource center for advocates, which provides policy background information and analysis, guidance of strategies to fight government secrecy and links to key resources.

Privatization v. The Public's Right to Know

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press reports on the state of public records laws in the U.S. Through anecdotal accounts, the Web site shares the difficulties journalists and others have in obtaining information the public has a right to know.

The opening story relates a lengthy struggle to obtain information about school bus drivers in Milwaukee even after it was discovered that a local school bus driver had been convicted of sex crime.

Lawyers and others seeking legal information will find summaries of state public records laws and many citations to case law.

Transportation Electronic Freedom of Information Act

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) makes available a number of documents and databases that contain useful information for consumers, researchers and lawyers. Scroll down the opening Web page to find information indexed under NHTSA's Electronic Reading Room. In addition to agency interpretations (letters responding to requests for interpretations under federal vehicle laws), statistics and safety information, you will find monthly (Jan 1996 to present) reports summarizing FOIA requests received by the agency and databases containing information about consumer complaints, vehicle safety compliance, defect investigations and recalls.

U.S. Department of Justice, Freedom of Information Act

The U.S. Department of Justice explains the Freedom of Information Act as it applies to this agency. It provides information helpful to those who want to make a FOIA request and links to the frequently requested documents of its various divisions and offices. Legal professionals may also find the Freedom of Information Case List -- a listing of FOIA and privacy cases and law reviews articles -- helpful.

WorldLII Privacy & FOI Law Project

The World Legal Information Institute (WorldLII) offers a single search interface to the databases on privacy and freedom of information, which are available on the Legal Information Institutes (LIIs) that are part of WorldLII. Find agency decisions, legislation, commentary and more from countries like Canada, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand. Links to the WorldLII Catalog also help you find external Web sites devoted to privacy and freedom of information law.

Denied Persons List
The U.S. Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) maintains this list of individuals and entities that have been denied export privileges.

The Entity List
The U.S. Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) maintains this list of foreign individuals and companies, "whose presence in a transaction can trigger a license requirement under the Export Administration Regulations. The list specifies the license requirements that apply to each listed party."

EPLS, Excluded Parties List System
The Excluded Parties List Systems (EPLS) is the electronic version of the Lists of Parties Excluded from Federal Procurement and Nonprocurement Programs, which identifies those parties excluded throughout the U.S. Government (unless otherwise noted) from receiving federal contracts or certain types of federal financial or other assistance and benefits.

List of Excluded Individuals/Entities Search
The Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services offers a separate interface (from the Excluded Parties Listing System) for finding individuals or businesses excluded from doing business with the agency.

OIG List of Excluded Individuals/Entities
The Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services makes available this database containing information about individuals and entities that are excluded from participation in Medicare, Medicaid, and other Federal health care programs.
A free site by Congressional Quarterly, Inc., offers news, special reports, statistics and more relating to public policy issues. Find a complete archive of Governing Magazine, an online supplement to State and Local Source Book 2003, a summary of state legislative issues, government-related news arranged by topic and more. You can also sign up for a free daily email news alert.

National Security Council, Historical List of Policy Documents
Find a listing of national security policy documents from Truman (1947) to Bush (1993). The listings are in portable document format (.pdf) and therefore require the Adobe Acrobat Reader. A key appearing at the bottom of each listing explains the classification status -- declassified and released in full, declassified and released in part, or not released -- of each document.