Committee Report: The Citizen’s Guide to Using the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act of 1974 to Request Government Records

September 20, 2012
This report is a guide that explains how to use the Freedom of Information Act and the 
Privacy Act of 1974.  It reflects all changes to the laws made prior to 2012.  Major amendments 
to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) were enacted in 1974, 1976, 1986, 1996, and 2007.  
Additional minor amendments to FOIA were made in 2002 and 2009.  A significant addition to 
the Privacy Act of 1974 was enacted in 1988.  
 
This Guide is intended to serve as an introduction to the Freedom of Information Act 
and the Privacy Act.  It offers neither a comprehensive explanation of the details of these acts nor 
an analysis of relevant case law. The Guide will enable those who are unfamiliar with the laws to 
understand the processes associated with making an information request. In addition, the 
complete text of each law is included in an appendix to this document.
Readers should be aware that FOIA litigation is a complex area of law. There are 
thousands of court decisions interpreting FOIA.
 
These decisions must be considered in order to 
develop a complete understanding of the principles governing disclosure of government 
information. Anyone requiring more details about FOIA, its history, or the case law should 
consult other sources. The Privacy Act has prompted less controversy and litigation than FOIA, 
but there is, nevertheless, a considerable body of case law for the Privacy Act. There are also 
other sources of information on the Privacy Act.
 
No one should be discouraged from making a request under either law. No special 
expertise is required. Using FOIA and the Privacy Act is as simple as writing a letter. This 
Citizen’s Guide explains the essentials.