How to file a
FOIA or PRR
All government structures are obligated by legislation to provide certain information to the public upon request. This process is called different things in different states: Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, Public Records Request. Any sheriff, state department of corrections, or other law enforcement agency is required to have someone designated to respond to these requests. The state law obligates authorities to respond to a FOIA request within a specified number of days (typically ten to fourteen).
Advice in filing a FOIA: be as specific as you can about what documents or data you want and for what time period. You can get huge amounts of information through this process but it can be slow and cumbersome.
People in authority have a number of ways to delay or divert your request.
- They may direct you to another department or simply say they don’t hold that data.
- They may say that they don’t have the data you asked for and not tell you that they have something very close to that, so you might have to rephrase your request.
- They may charge you a fee for the data, arguing that they don’t ordinarily record that data and to collect it will take extra work. They are legally allowed to do this.
- They may give you only part of what you ask for, typically the easiest or the least significant data.
- They may reply by asking for an extension of time to comply.
- They may only accept requests by snail mail or FAX, a clear-cut way to delay the process.
- They may simply not reply to your request. In any case, be prepared to persist.
Resources for FOIAS and PRA requests:
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a web page with lots of hints on filing FOIAs. They also link to two other sources of information on FOIA requests: MuckRock and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
We have filed a number of requests. Here is a sample request for information on individuals in an electronic monitoring program.