The Freedom of Information Act of the state of Illinois which is modeled after the federal FOIA provides a framework for the dissemination of information held by government agencies to members of the public. The Open Meetings Act and the Freedom of Information Law together form the Illinois Freedom of Information Act that confers on all state residents the right to request all public records.
The Act provides a detailed description of all information that is clubbed in the “public records” category, how this information may be requested, response to such requests and government agencies that are legally bound to offer such details to applicants. You can also find a list of records that are to be withheld from the public and information on the procedure that state departments are to follow when disseminating this data.
What is the Illinois Freedom of Information Act?
The Act states that all public records, barring those stated in the law, should be made accessible and open to the public; for inspection and copying. The agency that offers such information has the authority to charge a fee for processing such requests. However, they cannot refuse to provide such data to the applicant and if they do so, the agency is obligated to provide an explanation as to why the records are being kept away from the applicant.
What agencies are subject to the Illinois FOIA?
According to subsection 2(a) of the Act, the term public body applies to all government agencies including state advisory bodies, executive committees, the legislative wings of the government, state universities, colleges and other educational institutions, incorporated towns, villages, townships, cities, municipal corporations, commissions of the state, subsidiary bodies of these agencies including all committees and sub committees that are funded by tax revenue in part or whole.
While all government entities are covered under the Illinois FOIA, the law does not apply to the judiciary, so court records and information maintained by such entities as the probation department are off bounds for people. Similarly the Illinois Courts Commission, a judicial branch of the government is also outside the coverage of the Act.
What records can be requested by the members of the community under the provisions of this Act?
As enunciated in the act, all information pertaining to the workings of the state government and the policies followed by its representatives are deemed to be public records. The judicial system of the state has long mentioned that offering open access to state held information fosters an environment of accountability. However, it has also been recognized that in order for the government to function smoothly and to prevent infringement of individual rights to privacy, some details have to be kept confidential.
What can the public do if they are denied access to information?
Once you have ascertained that the details you seek fall in the public records category, and you have been denied permission to inspect and copy such records, you can challenge the denial in the court of law. The public agency that has declined your request will then have the legal obligation to explain to the judiciary why the records are being withheld from you.
What are public records under the Illinois state FOIA?
All reports, writings, forms, memoranda, letters, books, maps, photographs, pictures, microfilms, cards, recordings, electronic documents, any form of recordings, processed data and documentaries held by government agencies are all clubbed under the broad category of “public records”. The form in which the information is held is not a determining factor in its classification as a record available for public perusal. Similarly, the date on which such records, documents etc were prepared is also not relevant to its being clubbed in the public records category.
In fact, the only constraint when determining whether any information can be deemed a public record is its use, preparation or possession by a public agency. In other words, if a set of data is under the control of a public agency and has been prepared, used, received by them, you are entitled to inspect it and request a copy of the record.
It is imperative to understand that despite the FOIA, most justice agencies will not disseminate information pertaining to arrest warrants that have not been served to the public. This is done in the interest of community safety. So, while you can get a criminal background report from Illinois State Police and request information on warrants from the local sheriff’s office, they may not always be willing to hand over the data.