New York’s Freedom of Information Law (“FOIL”) law aims to promote confidence in government by making non-private agency records accessible to the public. As Justice Louis Brandeis once said, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.”
As local reporting declines and the Internet shifts attention away from local concerns and towards national and global issues, the internal operations of state and local governments have become less transparent. Now more than ever, FOIL offers an important tool for individuals, groups, and businesses to gain access to government records, promote transparency, and provide a check on local power. Likewise, the federal Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) grants public access to federal government records, subject to specific exceptions.
FOIL requires state and municipal agencies to maintain records, and grants the public rights to review and copy those records. It also establishes an administrative appeal processes to deal with agency denials of requests for records.
When administrative appeals are denied, members of the public can bring a lawsuit to compel disclosure of government records. State law gives courts the authority to award attorneys’ fees to a plaintiff who successfully brings a court action to force disclosure of withheld records.
Whereas the press and those concerned with government oversight sometimes use FOIL/FOIA to make information public, others use it to obtain evidence in anticipation of litigation, to stay informed about projects that may affect them, or simply to monitor what government agencies are up to.
The Zoghlin Group offers are range of FOIL/FOIA related services for those seeking access to agency records, including:
Reverse FOIL Services:
Under certain circumstances, where government disclosure would be inappropriate or harmful, we can also help businesses or individuals oppose agency disclosure of requested records, including records containing trade secrets, private materials, or other information protected by state or federal law. These “reverse FOIL” matters often arise when a business is required to disclose certain information to a government entity, and where a third-party attempts to use FOIL to compel the government to disclose that information. In situations such as these, the Zoghlin Group offers the following services:
We provide FOIL/FOIA related services on an hourly basis and, under certain circumstances, on a flat-fee basis.
Additional information about FOIL is maintained on a New York State website, and is available at: https://www.dos.ny.gov/coog/Right_to_know.html#foil and https://www.dos.ny.gov/coog/pdfs/right2know.pdf
-Benjamin Wisniewski, Esq. quoted in FOIL The Law and Future of Public Information in New York (Brett Orzechowski, Syracuse University Press 2018)