Guide to the Illinois FOIA Act
The Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) gives the public the right to access government documents and records. The premise behind FOIA is that the public has a right to know what its government—including its agencies, bureaus, universities, colleges, and other public bodies—is doing. The law provides that a person can ask a public body for a copy of records on a specific subject and that public body must provide those records, unless there is an exemption in the statute that protects the records from disclosure.
Records that a university employee creates or comes to possess in the course of her/his university duties are subject to FOIA and must be produced when requested unless an exemption applies.
The following points will help you understand how to comply with FOIA.
- FOIA is not a law that requires public bodies to create certain documents nor is it a law that governs the retention of public records. For guidance on records retention, see the Administrative Records Retention Schedule.
- FOIA applies to both tangible documents and records (e.g., hard copy) and electronically created/stored information, audio and video recordings, texts/Lync and Skype for Business instant messages (IMs), and photographs.
- If you are conducting university business through a personal email account (e.g., Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo) or on a personal device (e.g., a personal mobile phone or iPad), your university-related communications are still subject to FOIA.
- FOIA does not apply to unrecorded telephone calls and face-to-face conversations or documents that no longer exist. (Please note that although FOIA does not apply to documents that no longer exist, there are other policies and laws that stipulate requirements for the retention of public records.
- Certain records are protected by specific provisions of state or federal law and are exempt from release under FOIA. Examples include education records covered by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and health records covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
- Other exemptions arise through allowances for the redaction of specific kinds of information, including:
- Private information, such as Social Security numbers, personal phone numbers and addresses, and other highly sensitive private information;
- Personal information—information that a reasonable person would find highly objectionable if released; Note that sometimes a legitimate public interest in a record may outweigh personal privacy concerns in a particular case.
- Drafts and “deliberative process” information;
- Attorney-client privileged information;
- Trade secrets/proprietary information;
- Research materials/research data;
- Course material;
- Certain law enforcement records;
- Contracts while under negotiation.
It’s important to understand that FOIA does not exempt documents from release simply because such release might cause embarrassment for someone. Furthermore, requestors who believe they have been denied records that should be released may request a review by the Illinois Public Access Counselor (PAC) in the Illinois Attorney General’s Office. The PAC may direct disclosure of information previously withheld.
Responding to FOIA Requests: What Should You Do?
The University Relations Office for the University of Illinois System serves as the single point of intake for FOIA requests of information from any administrators, faculty, or staff on any of the three campuses. If you receive a request, please forward it immediately to firstname.lastname@example.org. The university is required to respond to requests within five business days, with an allowance for a one-time five-day extension. Any delay in beginning the response process means less time to work with you to ensure responses are complete and, if applicable, properly redacted.
In most cases, the University Relations Office collaborates with our campus Office of Public Affairs and the Office of Campus Legal Counsel when responding to FOIA requests. If you are contacted by University Relations or a campus FOIA coordinator to gather records in response to a request, please remember to forward all records that are requested, even if you believe the information may be exempt from production. University Relations decides whether it is appropriate to assert exemptions from disclosure (for documents or content within documents).
If you receive a FOIA request directly from a citizen or outside organization, please forward it immediately to email@example.com and the FOIA team will begin working with you on the response.
For more information and an FAQ visit: http://www.uillinois.edu/foia.