FOIA Advisor

Q&A (2015-16)

Q&A: Love thy neighbor?

Q&A (2015-16)Allan BlutsteinComment

Q.  I received a violation from the Arlington County [Virginia] Code Enforcement Inspector for debris, junk and miscellaneous items around my property.  A neighbor made a complaint.  I have asked several times about the name of the neighbor who filed the complaint.  This is just to satisfy me.  I have been told that I can file a F.O.I.A form. Please advise me on the next step to take. 

A. All the information needed to make a FOIA request is available on the Arlington County's website.  I doubt, however, that the County will release the identity of the complainant.  The Virginia FOIA specifically exempts the "names, addresses and telephone numbers of complainants furnished in confidence with respect to an investigation of individual zoning enforcement complaints or complaints relating to the Uniform Statewide Building Code (§ 36-97 et seq.) or the Statewide Fire Prevention Code (§ 27-94 et seq.) made to a local governing body."  Even if that specific exemption does not apply, the complainant's identity is likely to be withheld under other provisions aimed at protecting an individual's privacy and safety.  

Q&A: Aim high

Q&A (2015-16)Allan BlutsteinComment

Q.  I am writing a biography of an individual who served in the USAF for 25 years.  I have a significant piece of his history from his time served in Vietnam but would like to review the remainder of his military history.  Would I be permitted to file a FOIA request for the remainder of his disclosable military history and expect a positive result?  He is not a relative.

A.  If you do not have the written consent of a veteran or his next-of-kin, you may still be able to obtain various information from the veteran's Official Military Personnel File (OMPF) via the Freedom of Information Act.  See examples of releasable information here

To submit your request, you'll first need to figure out where to send it, which depends upon the veteran's date of discharge.  See this chart for instructions.  You may submit your request using Standard Form 180 or by a letter that provides the same information requested in the SF-180.    

Q&A: Polluting park rangers?

Q&A (2015-16)Ryan MulveyComment

Q.  How do I file a FOIA request with the U.S. Forest Service about Sumter National Forest in South Carolina?  I’m looking for records concerning lead contamination from their gun range into a city water supply, which is a violation of state and federal statutes.  They have ignored my written and verbal requests for information for over a year.

A.  The U.S. Forest Service has instructions for how to file a FOIA request available online.  A request for records maintained by the rangers in Sumter National Forest would likely need to be submitted to one of the Forest Service’s regional FOIA Service Centers—in this case, Region 8.  Further details, including the mailing address, e-mail, and phone number for Region 8 are also available online

Q&A: No Money No Problems?

Q&A (2015-16)Allan BlutsteinComment

Q.  I have been denied credit based on erroneous information gathered by "Clarity Services" in Florida and "Lexis Nexis Risk Solutions Bureau LLC, Riskview Consumer Inquiry Department," in Atlanta, GA.  I want to see their documentation regarding my alleged repossession, garnishments, and judgments they claim I had.

A.  The above-referenced entities are private companies and thus are not subject to freedom of information laws.  If you wish to dispute your credit report, you might consider the following guidance from the Federal Trade Commission. 

Q&A: Burning down the house

Q&A (2015-16)Allan BlutsteinComment

Q.   Is the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) subject to FOIA regulations? Is Fannie Mae required to produce documents in response to a FOIA request?

A.  Fannie Mae is a private entity under the conservatorship of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.  This means that Fannie Mae need not respond to FOIA requests submitted directly to it, but its records might be subject to FOIA requests submitted to FHFA.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has held that Fannie Mae records are not subject to FOIA if FHFA has neither read or relied upon them, nor integrated them into its files. See Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Fed. Housing Fin. Agency, No. 10-5349, 2011 WL 3375576 (D.C. Cir. Aug. 5, 2011). 

Q&A: Please don't take my sunshine away

Q&A (2015-16)Allan BlutsteinComment

Q.  Are the cell phones of government employees [in Illinois] subject to FOIA requests and can they be confiscated by agency attorneys if they suspect you are taking pictures or sending a text about work-related matters?

A.  On August 9, 2016, the Illinois Attorney General issued a legal opinion indicating that all emails sent or received by agency employees that relate to government business are subject to FOIA, regardless of whether sent through a government or personal account. This would appear to be equally applicable to text messages and other work-related records maintained on personal accounts or devices.  

For further information about the AG's opinion, see this article written by the law firm Holland & Knight.  If you are an agency employee, you should confer with your agency about the how it intends to implement the AG's opinion.  

Q&A: From New York to Maryland to Texas

Q&A (2015-16)Allan BlutsteinComment

Q.  A friend of mine obtained some information through FOIA and has no problem sharing it with me and letting me use it.  May I use it for my benefit?  Or do I need to obtain the same FOIA information myself?  I am a resident of New York.

A.  A recipient of records through FOIA -- or the Freedom of Information Law in New York -- may disseminate those records as he or she pleases; the government does not impose any restrictions.  Therefore, unless you and your friend have a contractual agreement to the contrary, you need not make a duplicate FOIA request; you may lawfully use the information as you choose.   

Q.   Where should abuse of responding to FOIA be reported?

A.    If you have a complaint about a state or local agency in your state of residence (Maryland), you might consider contacting the Maryland Attorney General.  If you are concerned about a federal agency, the Office of Government Information Services helps requesters and agencies to resolve FOIA disputes.  

Q.  Are city governments in Texas subject to FOIA?

A.  State and local governments in Texas are subject to the Texas Public Information Act, not the federal Freedom of Information Act.  


Q&A: Florida, Florida, Florida

Q&A (2015-16)Allan BlutsteinComment

Q.  Concerning the election of 2016, how do I submit a FOIA request to Lee County, Florida for the ballot images of the election? Actually I would like a copy of the ballot images for the whole state of Florida, but Lee County is where I reside.

A.  You might consider submitting your request to Lee County's public records request center. Alternatively, you might consider contacting the Lee County Supervisor of Elections and asking for a sample ballot.