Want to file a public information request? Here’s how

American citizens have great power when they exercise their rights as established under law. One of those precious rights exists in the form of the Freedom of Information Act.

When he signed the national law, President Lyndon Johnson said, “This legislation springs from one of our most essential principles: A democracy works best when the people have all the information that the security of the nation permits. No one should be able to pull the curtains of secrecy around decisions which can be revealed without injury to the public interest.”

Nowadays, the most frequent users of FOIA are citizen-watchdog groups, research organizations and private businesses.

The law was actually intended for the individual citizen. It allows taxpayers to keep tabs on their government at all levels — to see where their money is being spent, to track action or inaction, to hold elected officials accountable. All this is possible through FOIA.

But if the system is working properly, citizens shouldn’t need to invoke the FOIA. They should be able to merely ask for, and receive, the public information they seek.

Yet FOIA is there, when needed, to provide an incentive for public officials and bodies to operate in the clear light of day.

That’s certainly an appropriate subject for this week, called Sunshine Week, a national initiative sponsored by the American Society of News Editors to focus on the importance of open government and freedom of information.

Anyone can file a Freedom of Information Act request at any government agency. In honor of Sunshine Week, we’re providing a clip-and-save copy of a sample FOIA letter that would pertain to any public information in the state of Michigan.

Use it whenever needed.


TO: (FOIA coordinator’s name, agency)
RE: (Subject of request)

Dear (FOIA coordinator):

Under provisions of the Michigan Freedom of Information Act, Public Act No. 442 of 1976, I am requesting (copies of or access to) the following information:

(Insert here a specific, detailed description of the information being sought.)

The FOIA provides that if portions of a document are exempt from release, the remainder must be segregated and disclosed. Therefore, I will expect you to provide me with all nonexempt portions of the records which I have requested, and ask that you justify any deletions by reference to specific exemptions of the FOI Act. I reserve the right to appeal your decision to withhold any materials.

If you have any questions or fees to comply with this request exceed $10, please contact me at (list phone number) before incurring any costs.

As provided under FOIA, I anticipate my request being filled within five working days of receipt of this letter.


(Your name)