What is a FOIA Log? 3


what is a foia log

FOIA logs let you see who’s filed FOIA requests, what information was requested, and when the request was sent

 

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on the site, the process of actually making a FOIA request is normally quite easy. The difficult part is figuring out what information the government has in the first place.

That’s one area where FOIA logs can be helpful.

What is a FOIA log?

A government agency’s FOIA log is simply a listing of FOIA requests it has received.

FOIA logs normally include:

  • A description of the information being requested
  • The name of the person and/or organization making the request
  • The date on which the request was received
  • The current status / final outcome of the request (granted, denied, or partially granted)

Here is what a FOIA log looks like. This one is from FEMA (available here).

FOIA Log - FEMA

 

FOIA the FOIAs

How do you get an agency’s FOIA log?

Several agencies are now posting FOIA logs on their website. But in most cases, you have to ask for them using a Freedom of Information Request (i.e. FOIA the FOIAs).

If you’d like see what a request like this looks like, here is one I made a few days ago.

foia log request

Agencies receive requests like this one regularly, so they are normally able to turn them around quickly, sometimes in the same day.

 

How can FOIA logs be helpful?

  • FOIA logs can help you figure out what information government agencies have.
  • More specifically, they can help identify which information is important. If many people are requesting the same record, or if the request is coming from someone “in the know” such as a major investigative media outlet, it’s likely that record contains something interesting.
  • Once a record has been released under a FOIA request, that record is already prepared and should be available for immediate release.

 

How do I start?

There are two ways of searching the FOIA logs.

  1. Browse the FOIA logs of a particular government agency – Go to the Browse by Government Agency page, click on the agency you have in mind, and scroll to the bottom of the page. FOIA Mapper does not have logs for every agency, but if we do, they will be there.
  2. Search the FOIA logs by keyword – To look for information about a particular topic, go to the FOIA Search page. If you enter a keyword, it will return any request in which that keyword appears. You can also use the search form to find requests submitted by a particular person or organization. For example, search “New York Times” to see requests that they have made.

If you don’t know where to start, but would like to see how it works, here are a few example searches:
What information are other people requesting about drones?
What information has been requested by Gawker?

Once you find something interesting, request it by email. All the information you need to write up the request can be found here: How to Make a FOIA Request
 

 

 

 

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Max Galka

I am an NYC-based entrepreneur and an adjunct lecturer at UPenn. I'm fascinated by data visualization and the ways that data is transforming our understanding of the world. I spend a lot of time with my face buried in Excel, and when I find something interesting I write about it at Metrocosm / Huffpo / Guardian Cities.
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