FOIA: Telling You What You Really Want to Know

Written by Charlotte Limosani |

You hear your parents talking in the other room in quiet voices, so naturally you want to know what they are talking about. You ask them what they are taking about, but they tell you the information is private.

When people want to find out Information concerning the government, however, they are allowed to find out by using Freedom Of Information Act.

Senior T.J. Hannon was a student in Mr. Graham’s civics class last semester. In his lessons, Mr. Graham teaches a unit on nuclear weapons.  Mr. Graham talked about a nuclear bomb incident that took place in North Carolina. TJ was very interested in this event and wanted to know what  was going on behind the scenes. In order to find out the information that he wanted to know, he had to use FOIA (the Freedom Of Information Act).

In order to use the Freedom of Information Act, TJ had to follow certain procedures. He had to request for an agency record and then make a FOIA request. He had to write out specifically what information he wanted to receive. It was important to look at the agency that he was looking for information from to distinguish what they can and cannot release automatically.

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Little did TJ know that this would be a long process.  Eventually he did receive the information he requested. He received a document from the government called, “Always/ Never: The Quest for Nuclear Safety, Control, and Survivability.” This document was produced by a private nuclear research laboratory called Sandia National Laboratories. Sandia is a contractor for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. This was classified as “Official Use Only” and was used by the Department of Energy for instructional purposes. Only short clips from the documentary were ever released to the public. Mr. Graham showed one of these clips to the class, and that is when TJ Hannon and Mr. Graham came up with the idea to obtain the entire document. The document was given to TJ after the Department of Defense reviewed it and deemed it acceptable for a full release.

Hannon says, “The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a very useful tool for the average United States citizen to view and understand the different happenings within our government. Unfortunately, many are not even aware of its existence. Transparency is not something that every country offers its citizens. We, as Americans, should fully embrace this statutory right for educational and constructive purposes. The process may seem overwhelming and lengthy, but it is entirely worth the effort.”

FOIA states that individuals are able to receive information that anyone else has the rights to know. The Freedom of Information Act allows all information to be released to anyone who wants it.  Is there something you want to know about our government?  Use the Freedom of Information Act to obtain the answers.

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