How to File a FOIA in Illinois
What is FOIA?
FOIA is an acronym for the Freedom of Information Act.
FOIA is an open-government law grounded in the principle that the public should be able to access public records and information about the workings of their government.
"[A]ll persons are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts and policies of those who represent them as public officials…" 5ILCS 140/1
"Such access is necessary to enable people to … monitor government to ensure that it is being conducted in the public interest." Id
"Each public body shall make available to any person for inspection or copying all public records…" 5 ILCS 140/3
The website for the Office of the Attorney General has an extensive section on FOIA.
How do I file a FOIA request in Illinois?
1. Find the right FOIA officer.
A FOIA officer handles and responds to FOIA requests. Find this person on the Internet or use the main number of the office from which you’re requesting public records. For example, if you are looking to file a FOIA request with the City of Chicago, visit the FOIA page on cityofchicago.com to find the right officer.
2. Write your request.
- No specific format is required.
- No standard form is required.
- No reason for your request is necessary.
- Be as specific as possible about what records you are requesting.
- Include your name and contact information.
A sample FOIA Request:
January 1, 2010
Dear FOIA Officer (use specific name):
This is a request under the Freedom of Information Act.
I would like copies of records of all of your agency’s current employees and officers, including each person’s name, title, hire date, current salary and overtime paid in 2006.
Please send a copy of the records to me at the address below. I would also be happy to accept the records electronically. Because these records are in the public interest, I ask that you waive any reproduction fee.
If you deny this request, please tell me on what grounds, and to whom I should appeal.
Mary Frances O’Connor
Better Government Association
223 West Jackson
Chicago, IL 60606
3. Write your request.
- The public body must comply with or deny the request within 5 business days.
- The public body may request an extension of up to 5 business days.
- No response from the public body equals a denial, and you may then appeal (see below).
- Keep notes and records (names, dates, times) of all communication, including phone calls.
What do I do if my FOIA request is denied?
Denials are common. Here’s what you can do.
1. Submit a request for review with the Public Access Counselor in the Illinois Attorney General’s office — it typically takes 60 days for an opinion — here: http://foia.ilattorneygeneral.net/.
2. File a lawsuit. Filing fees can be expensive. For example, in Cook County the filing fee is about $400. A lawsuit usually takes at least six months to resolve.
3. Call/email BGA, and tell us about your situation.
QUESTIONS OR COMMENTS?
Stephanie Hardiman Simon