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Freedom of Information Act and the Sunshine Act Laws

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) gives the public access to government agency records. The 1966 statute increased federal government transparency and accountability. Every citizen or resident can request federal agency records under FOIA. FOIA covers the White House, government departments, agencies, and commissions. It excludes Congress, federal courts, and state and local government records. Many states have freedom of information laws that allow access to state and municipal government records. Nine exclusions allow agencies to retain national security, personal privacy, and trade secret documents from public disclosure.

The Sunshine Act mandates open federal government sessions. The 1976 statute increased federal agency decision-making transparency. Government in the Sunshine Act is its official name. The Sunshine Act covers multi-member federal agency hearings, negotiations, and regulatory actions. With several exceptions, these meetings must be public. Meetings regarding confidential material or personnel decisions are exceptions. Agencies must notify and publish meeting minutes under the Sunshine Act (Aman et al., 2020). Agencies must also provide meeting documents by law. Public attendees can request to speak or present. The Sunshine Act improves federal agency decision-making transparency and accountability. The public can monitor decision-making and hold authorities responsible by mandating specific sessions to be open. The Transparency Act enables federal agencies to make decisions based on public policy rather than hidden agendas or special interests.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Sunshine Act strive to increase government transparency and accountability in the US by making it easier for citizens to access government information and participate in government decision-making. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act in 1966. (FOIA). This law was passed to improve citizen access to government data and papers. Federal agency records can be requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which does not discriminate by country. The Federal Government develops, collects, and preserves many policies, procedures, decisions, and other records. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) promotes transparency and keeps people accountable in public administration. Citizens’ access to government documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) fosters public interest decision-making (Solove & Schwartz, 2020). It is a terrific tool for keeping government officials accountable and monitoring their work. The Freedom of Information Act holds public workers accountable and discourages corruption, ensuring honest and transparent administration.

The Sunshine Act, which promotes government transparency, is another critical law. This law requires public access to the government agency, board, and commission meetings. The Sunshine Act ensures public access to federal agency activities and promotes open government decision-making. The Sunshine Act’s openness and transparency in government decision-making are essential for good public management (Schudson, 2020). Making all meetings public, the Sunshine Act encourages citizen engagement in government decision-making and keeps officials accountable. By holding public workers accountable, it also fights corruption. The Freedom of Information Act and the Sunshine Act guarantee openness and accountability in public administration. These principles ensure that government decision-making is open and democratic by mandating public access to government records and meetings. They are essential for honest, democratic Government, fighting corruption, and keeping public workers accountable.

The Sunshine and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) have developed through legislative revisions, court rulings, and administrative interpretations. Critical moments in these laws’ evolution:

Sunshine Act: In 1972, the Sunshine Act was passed, requiring that, with few exceptions, meetings of federal boards, commissions, and agencies be accessible to the public.

1976: Changes to the Sunshine Act clarified the definition of a meeting and created protocols for adjourning meetings in specific situations.

United States v. Bagley, a case decided by the Supreme Court in 1985, established that the Sunshine Act applies to all gatherings where decisions are made, even if no formal action is taken.

In the Sunshine Act Amendments of 1996, the Government created a legal right of access to agency records utilized in private meetings and mandated that agencies post meeting agendas in advance.

2007: The Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National Government Act (OPEN Government Act) strengthened the Sunshine Act by requiring agencies to post meeting notices, agendas, and other materials on their websites and by allowing for the recovery of legal costs in lawsuits challenging agency compliance with the act.

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA): 1966: FOIA gave the public access to government records, with specific exemptions to preserve national security and personal privacy.

1974: FOIA amendments increased access to government records, including law enforcement and intelligence agency records, and established the Office of Information and Privacy to manage FOIA requests.

1986: FOIA was updated to expedite specific requests and establish a fee structure.

1996: FOIA was updated to make government records presumptively disclosed and require agencies to develop electronic reading rooms for frequently requested records.

2007: FOIA was updated to force agencies to respond to requests within 20 days, establish a FOIA ombudsman to help requesters, and enhance the Office of Federal Information Services.

In recent years, there have been ongoing initiatives to strengthen the Sunshine Act and FOIA, including suggestions to lessen exemptions and enhance agency compliance with the rules. These rules still play a crucial part in encouraging accountability and openness in public administration.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) gives the public access to government records, with some exemptions. If released, these exclusions protect sensitive material that could jeopardize national security, personal privacy, or other significant government interests. FOIA restricts access to three sorts of information:

Classified National Security Information: FOIA exempts records classified under Presidential Orders or other statutes for national security. The Government can withhold records that could reveal critical intelligence sources, techniques, or activities or impair national security under this exemption. Depending on its sensitivity, classified information is labelled “confidential,” “secret,” or “top secret.”

Personal Privacy Information: FOIA exempts records that violate privacy. Medical, personnel, and law enforcement documents that would violate privacy can be withheld under this exception. The Government must weigh the public interest in disclosure against individual privacy when deciding to divulge records.

Sensitive Business Information: FOIA exempts records containing confidential business information. Trade secrets, commercial or financial information, and other confidential business information that could impair private enterprises’ competitive position can be withheld under this exemption. Private enterprises’ secret information must be balanced against the public interest in disclosure by the Government.

It is crucial to remember that these exemptions are not absolute, and the Government must reveal documents if the public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm. In releasing the entirety of a record, the Government may redact or withhold specific details. Requesters can appeal FOIA denials to an administrative appellate authority or sue in federal court.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) allows the public access to many government records and information, although some are confidential. Here are three examples of FOIA-inaccessible information: Exemptions for National Security Classified information is covered by FOIA. Exposure to sensitive material could harm national security and involve defence, foreign policy, and intelligence. The Government must prove that classified information is secret and that its revelation would damage national security. The Freedom of Information Act does not necessitate the publication of national security information for obvious reasons. Military strategy, weaponry specifications, intelligence activities, and other secrets fall under this category. The Government must protect this data to protect the US and its citizens. Since it could compromise ongoing activities or reveal secret sources and methods, this material is classified.

Privacy exemptions The Freedom of Information Act exempts personal privacy data. Medical, personnel and other personal records are exempt from these protections. The Government must prove that this information will violate privacy. Medical, personnel and other personally identifying documents are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to safeguard privacy (Guy & Ely, 2022). As it is exempt, this information cannot be disclosed because it could violate privacy rights. The Government must protect individuals’ privacy and ensure that sensitive information is not shared without consent. If you reveal this information, you risk having your identity stolen, being harassed, or being injured.

Trade secrets and other confidential commercial or financial information are excluded from the FOIA. This includes details on firms’ operations, financial records, and other private information they would not wish to publicize. The Government must prove that the data is private and that disclosing it would seriously affect the supplier’s ability to compete due to the possible harm to the provider’s or organization’s competitive position. The Government wants to encourage business innovation and competition; thus, disclosing proprietary information could impair companies’ ability to compete and inhibit both. By keeping this information secure, companies are more likely to share it with the Government, which can be helpful for regulatory and other purposes.

These exclusions aim to balance the public’s right to know with other vital interests, such as national security, secrecy, and the legal system’s credibility. Nonetheless, agencies and officials should refrain from using these exemptions to avoid openness and accountability in their operations. Agencies must follow the Sunshine Act’s text and spirit and can be sued if they try to circumvent it. These exclusions balance the public’s right to know and other vital interests, such as national security, privacy, and corporate sustainability. The Government must provide a clear rationale for restricting access to material based on these exemptions or risk court challenges. Government agencies must share as much information as possible while protecting these interests under the FOIA’s narrow interpretation of exemptions.


Aman, A. C., Penniman, W., & Rookard, L. W. (2020). Administrative Law and Process. Carolina Academic Press.

Guy, M. E., & Ely, T. L. (2022). Essentials of public service: An introduction to contemporary public administration. Melvin & Leigh, Publishers.

Schudson, M. (2020). US Freedom of Information Act and Democratic Accountability. In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication.

Solove, D. J., & Schwartz, P. M. (2020). Information privacy law. Aspen Publishing.


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