FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT AND PRIVACY ACT
What is FOIA?
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) established a presumption that records in the possession of Federal agencies are accessible to the public. Before FOIA was passed in 1966, the individual had to establish a right to examine these Government records. With passage of the FOIA, the burden of proof shifted from the individual to the Government. The "need to know" standard has been replaced by a "right to know" doctrine. FOIA set standards for determining which records must be disclosed and which records can be withheld. The law also provides administrative and judicial remedies for those denied access to records.
What is the Privacy Act?
The Privacy Act of 1974 is a companion to the FOIA. The Privacy Act regulates Federal Government agency recordkeeping and disclosure practices. The Act allows most individuals to seek access to Federal agency records about themselves. As with the FOIA, the Privacy Act provides civil remedies for individuals whose rights have been violated. Together with the FOIA, the Privacy Act permits disclosure of most personal files to the individual who is the subject of the files.
How do these laws help me get information?
The two laws restrict disclosure of personal information to others when disclosure would violate privacy interests. The access provisions of the FOIA and the Privacy Act overlap in part. The two laws have different procedures and different exemptions. As a result, sometimes information exempt under one law will be disclosable under the other. In order to take maximum advantage of the laws, an individual seeking information about himself or herself should normally cite both laws.
All Federal agencies are required to publish descriptions of their records management systems (systems of records) covered by the Privacy Act. You may view online at: Reclamation's Systems of Records.
Requests by an individual for information that does not relate solely to himself or herself should be made only under the FOIA. Congress intended that the two laws be considered together in the processing of requests for information. Reclamation will automatically handle requests from individuals in a way that will maximize the amount of information that is disclosable. However, a requester should still make a request in a manner that is most advantageous and that fully protects all available legal rights. A requester who has any doubts about which law to use should always cite both the FOIA and the Privacy Act when seeking documents from the Federal Government.
Contacts and more information.
For a Reclamation FOIA and Privacy Act contact in your area, see the FOIA contacts page.
For the Department of Interior's FOIA and Privacy Act information, see the DOI's FOIA home page.
If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please contact our FOIA/PA staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.