The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a mechanism by which concerned citizens can request specific information regarding the running of government. The federal government, federal agencies, and others that receive federal funding are obligated, with certain exceptions, to disclose information upon request. For state agencies, the Utah Government Records Access and Management Act gives similar authority to access state records.
Federal FOIA Requests
When you make a FOIA request, it must be in writing, though many agencies now have online forms for FOIA requests. You can request any agency record and specify the format you want the record produced in (either electronic or hard copy, for example). The agency must respond, though the time it takes to respond will depend on the complexity of your request. Further, for particularly large or complicated requests, the agency may charge you for labor and costs of materials to respond to your request. If those fees are estimated to be in excess of $25, the agency will notify you of the anticipated amount and ask if you want to proceed before processing your request.
FOIA requests are also subject to nine exemptions, from information that needs to remain classified to protect national security to personnel information of the agency. If your information falls under one of these exceptions, you will receive a notice letting you know what exemption the government believes protects the information. One exemption protects personal information from release, so an agency will not release anything containing personal information, including yours, unless you send proof of identity along with the request.
Utah Government Records Access and Management Act
Utah law also guarantees public access to government records. Documents are exempt when they include private information about individuals or government employees, health records, and records that, if disclosed, would lead to security problems, financial speculation or instability, and unfair competition. In Utah, the agency that receives the request must respond within ten business days. This response may state the cost of sending the records, the exemption the government believes prevents their response or the amount of time it will take to respond to the request.
FOIA requests are often a useful tool to gain necessary information from a government body, whether or not they are involved in litigation, or as part of doing your research in advance of litigation. The experienced team of business litigators at the Dunn Law Firm knows a number of different strategies to gather information to make a case and can help you understand your rights under Utah law. Because their litigation work focuses primarily on business issues, our lawyers are familiar with the nuances of Utah laws as well as federal laws and regulations. To learn more, reach out to the Dunn Law Firm by calling (435) 628-5405 and set up a free consultation today.