FOIA requests just got easier… for some of us. FOIAonline went live on October 1, 2012, and allows FOIA requests to be submitted online to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Commerce (except the US Patent and Trademark Office), the Merit Systems Protection Board, the Federal Labor Relations Authority, and the National Archives and Records Administration.
The Freedom of Information Act is a law that allows individuals to obtain access to federal records, unless the information falls within one of the nine exemptions:
Exemption 1 – Protects information that is properly classified in the interest of national security pursuant to Executive Order 12958.
Exemption 2 – Protects records related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency.
Exemption 3 – Protects information exempted from release by statute.
Exemption 4 – Protects trade secrets and commercial or financial information which could harm the competitive posture or business interests of a company.
Exemption 5 – Protects the integrity of the deliberative or policy-making processes within the agency by exempting from mandatory disclosure opinion, conclusions, and recommendations included within inter-agency or intra-agency memoranda or letters.
Exemption 6 – Protects information that would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy of the individuals involved.
Exemption 7 – Protects records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes the release of which could reasonably be expected:
(A) – to interfere with enforcement proceedings.
(B) – would deprive a person of a right to a fair trial or an impartial adjudication.
(C) – to constitute an unwarranted invasion of the personal privacy of a third party/parties (in some instances by revealing an investigative interest in them).
(D) – to disclose the identity/identities of confidential sources.
(E) – would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions.
(F) –to endanger the life or physical safety of an individual.
Exemption 8 – Protects information that is contained in or related to examination, operating, or condition reports prepared by, on behalf of, or for the use of an agency responsible for the regulation or supervision of financial institutions.
Exemption 9 – Protects geological and geophysical information and data, including maps, concerning wells.
The website allows you to “[s]earch for requests, appeals, and records stored across multiple agencies, in a central repository. Full text searching allows for discovery of relevant information within electronic records. Records are immediately available online upon release.” The progress of requests can be tracked on an online dashboard for registered users. It appears records can be accessed from October 1, 2012 on.
Once a charging party has filed suit, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission files are often subject to a FOIA request. FOIAonine seems a little more up-to-date than the EEOC FOIA Tracking System. Perhaps the EEOC will participate in the new system but, until then, follow the EEOC procedures to obtain the information and documents you need. If the EEOC does jump on board to FOIAonline, Title VII and ADA files may potentially be withheld from the general public (due to the third exemption), but at least the parties will have a convenient database to use during the FOIA request process.