Freedom of Information Act
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was passed into American law in 1966 as a way of ensuring the public would have access to federal information and records in order to educate themselves. There are many important things to understand about why the FOIA act was passed, as it is a key act that helps to safeguard the rights of those who live in the U.S.
FOIA Makes Federal Records Available
The FOIA was passed in order to impose the requirement that the federal government make certain types of information, including federal records, available to the general public in easy-access locations such as on their website and/or in publications.
The FOIA was passed to mandate the availability of information is to ensure the rights of the American public are covered in terms of having information available that may directly affect their own lives.
The FOIA is also considered a way of making the government’s actions “transparent” and giving the public a chance to scrutinize what is being done by the government on their behalf.
Arguments Against the FOIA
Not everyone agrees with the Freedom of Information Act, or recognizes the importance of the reasons why the FOIA Act was passed.
- Detractors to the bill complain that it violates constitutional rights of government officials and that it poses a security risk by revealing some confidential information.
- At the time of its signing, even President Lyndon Johnson was against the FOIA.
Lyndon Johnson and the FOIA
During a time of tumultuous relationships between the White House and the press, the era of the 1960s to the 1970s were fraught with discussions about what information the public had to a right to know versus what information the federal government had a right to keep to themselves.
Various senators and other governmental officials from both Democratic and Republican parties had taken stances on the issue for years. The FOIA was stalled through administration for the entire year of 1965, with federal agencies providing testimony and information which they felt justified the bill being vetoed.
However, by 1966, more specific wording was put into the bill explaining what types of information would be open to the public versus kept private. The bill passed unanimously.
Politics and the Passing of the FOIA
Understanding the politics behind why the FOIA was passed is also key to understanding the Act.
- In general, during such a time of political unrest, the very act of opposing a bill such as the FOIA made the government look suspicious in the eyes of many detractors, and thus in the long run they didn’t have much choice in whether or not to pass it.
- The signing of the bill was framed as a way of giving the American public a chance to scrutinize the actions of their government, who were anxious to prove that they had nothing to hide.
- At the same time, some still spoke of security concerns and other issues with the FOIA, which meant that debates would continue over what types of information should be released for many years into the future.
Thus, the road to passing the FOIA was a rough one, despite all the benefits of transparency and availability of educational and historical information.
Freedom of Information Act - Legal Definition