You’ve probably heard about the Freedom of Information Act, maybe on satellite tv shows or in the news, but did you ever wonder where the act came from and how it has evolved?
Based on the idea of partial or full disclosure of documents that were previously sealed or classified and controlled by the United States government, the Freedom of Information Act was signed into law by President Lyndon Baines Johnson on July 4th, 1966, and went into effect on July 1st, 1967.
Even though the Freedom of Information Act has evolved and changed since its original inception, the Act specifically applies to the Executive branch of federal government, and the agencies that fall under the jurisdiction of the Executive branch. The idea behind the Act, simply is that people have a right to know. However, there are nine specific instances where the common citizen does not have the right to documentation from the Executive branch and their agencies, but the two primary reasons for denial of information are “…specifically authorized under criteria established by an Executive order to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy” and “trade secrets” to “clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
These exceptions have been contested and litigated multiple times throughout the last half century, highlighted by Department of Justice v. Landanowhich argued that the federal government was not entitled to the presumption that a source is confidential under the meaning of Exemption of the Act when said source provided to an Executive branch agency, in this case being the Federal Bureau of Investigation during the course of a criminal, felonious investigation.
As with any piece of legislation, amendments and changes to that law come about. For example, on September 6th, 1966-even before the original version of the FOIA was enacted, President Johnson signed Title 5, which stated that “Except as otherwise required by statute, matters of official record shall be made available, in accordance with published rule, to persons properly and directly concerned, except information held confidential for good cause found.”
When President Gerald Ford attempted to veto the Privacy Act of 1974-a FOIA strengthening set of legislation, Congress voted to override the veto, which still provides the very backbone of the FOIA that the United States uses today.