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4 Good Reasons to Keep FOIA Requests Anonymous

By: Andy Hackett, COGENCY GLOBAL on Thu, Aug 31, 2023

What this is: The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a US federal law that provides individuals with the right to request access to records held by federal agencies. The law was enacted in 1966 and has since been amended several times. 

What this means: Although anyone can request information from federal agencies under the act, some may choose to keep their request anonymous. Why? Read on.

Good Reasons to Keep FOIA Requests Anonymous Header

What is the FOIA?

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is an essential US federal law initiated in 1966, and subsequently amended, allowing American citizens and individuals worldwide to gain access to federal government records. Through FOIA, people can inquire about policies, decisions and actions taken by various federal agencies, fostering a sense of transparency and accountability.

The purpose of FOIA is to promote transparency and accountability in government by allowing individuals to request information about the activities and decisions of government agencies. The law applies to all federal agencies, but not Congress or federal courts. 

Under FOIA, any person can request access to federal agency records, except for those that are specifically exempted from disclosure by the law. Some examples of exempted information include national security classified information, personal privacy information and confidential business information. FOIA covers most records in the possession of a government agency, but cannot compel an agency to create a record.

Agencies are required to respond to FOIA requests within a set timeframe and are allowed to charge reasonable fees for processing the requests. If an agency denies a request, the requester has the right to appeal the decision and can seek judicial review if necessary. 

Although FOIA requests are generally public records, it's worth noting that personal identifying details can be removed under FOIA exemption 6.

logo-cogency-color-1Need to submit a FOIA request? We can manage the request process on your behalf while your identity remains confidential.

Here's Why Anonymous FOIA Requests Make Sense

While FOIA promotes openness, there are practical reasons why some requesters may prefer anonymity. Remember, most records in the possession of an agency are subject to the FOIA, including their FOIA log, which list who submits a request, and the subject matter of each request. Let’s explore these reasons more comprehensively:

1. Avoiding Retaliation

Requesting sensitive information may incite retaliation from employers or authoritative entities. For example, whistleblowers revealing corruption could face job termination or other punitive measures if their identity gets disclosed.

2. Competitive Research

Companies often seek information about competitors' collaborations with federal agencies but wish to do so without raising alarms. An anonymous request enables them to acquire pertinent data like government contracts, without alerting the competition to their actions.

3. Political or Social Sensitivities

Keeping one's identity undisclosed can be crucial when investigating topics that may be politically or socially controversial. Journalists, researchers, or activists may opt for anonymity to circumvent negative attention or threats from specific interest groups.

4. Privacy

Some individuals may want to protect their personal privacy, irrespective of the content of their FOIA request. After all, there's no need for the world to know your business, is there?

Does Your FOIA Request Need Professional Assistance?

If you feel you need to protect your company’s identity, you could always use a service provider that handles the process of submitting a FOIA request from start to finish. A good service company should also have knowledge of the requirements and standard language, agency contacts and persistent follow-up. This way, you add a layer of anonymity to your request.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered, or relied upon, as legal advice. 

Topics: Freedom of Information Act