The Freedom of Information Act is the law that gives you access, with certain exceptions, to documents and records about the functions, procedures, policies, decisions and operations of federal government departments and agencies. The following is an overview of the FCC's FOIA rules, how FOIA requests work, and how you can file a FOIA request with the FCC.
What is the FOIA?
Please note that you do not always need to file a FOIA request to get information about the FCC. The FCC routinely makes a wide variety of information about its decisions and actions available to the public through this website and its Reference Information Center (445 12th Street, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20554; open to the public 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM Monday through Thursday and 8:00 AM to 11:30 AM on Friday). Among the types of information routinely available are comments filed by the public, records from docketed cases, broadcast applications and related files, petitions for rulemakings, various legal and technical publications, legislative history compilations, etc. (See 47 C.F.R. §§ 0.453 and 0.460.)
A person who wants to inspect publicly available FCC records need only appear at the Commission's headquarters and ask to see the records. Alternatively, you may write or telephone in advance to schedule a date and time to make the records available for inspection. Advance notice to the FCC is suggested in some circumstances, i.e., if the request is for a large number of documents or for older documents which may have to be recalled from storage.
To obtain information that is not routinely available to the public, you must file a FOIA request. However, some information, such as internal deliberative material, confidential financial information, personal information about individuals, and some law enforcement records, is exempt from disclosure.
What Can I Obtain with a FOIA Request?
Under the FOIA and the FCC's implementing rules, you are allowed to obtain copies of FCC records unless the records contain information that is exempt under the FOIA from mandatory disclosure. Section 552(b) of the FOIA contains nine types of records which are routinely exempt from disclosure under the FOIA:
- Records classified national defense or foreign policy materials, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(1);
- Internal personnel rules and agency practices, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(2);
- Information specifically exempted from disclosure by another statute, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(3);
- Trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person and privileged or confidential, 5 U.S.C § 552(b)(4);
- Inter- or intra-agency memoranda or letters which would not be available to a party in litigation with the agency, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(5);
- Personnel, medical and similar files, disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(6);
- Records compiled for law enforcement purposes, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7);
- Records relating to the examination, operations, or condition of financial institutions, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(8); and
- Oil well data, 5 U.S.C. § 552 (b)(9).
Even if a record falls within one of these FOIA exemptions, the FCC may, in some circumstances, release the records, depending upon the exemption at issue and the circumstances of the FOIA request.