Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)


ANNCR: The Freedom of Information Act – on Today's Congressional Moment.

The Freedom of Information movement began in earnest in the 1950s. After WWII, the extent of government secrecy was questioned by the American Society of Newspaper Editors. At about the same time, a young Congressman from California, John Moss, was coming to the same conclusion — discovering that a lot of government records were being held back from the public almost by default, without a thoughtful or systematic process.

John Moss worked on this issue for 12 of his 26 years in Congress. He eventually authored the Freedom of Information Act. It offered a compromise between those who argue for secrecy as it relates to national security, and those who argue for a citizen's right to know, on a case–by–case basis.

Based on the belief that individuals should know what their government is up to, The Freedom of Information Act was signed into law on July 4, 1966 — and expanded in 1974 after the Watergate scandal.

The Act allows any person the right to access information from a federal agency through a written request. Government agencies are required to disclose the documents, unless they can be lawfully withheld under the specific exemptions written into the Act.

Because of his push to release government information, the FBI kept an extensive file on Congressman Moss, which was recently released ... through the Freedom of Information Act.

STANDARD CLOSING: This is Lee Hamilton. Congressional decisions impact all our lives. To find out more about how Congress works, or to get involved in your government, visit the Center On Congress website at