Government agencies or entities base their decision on the release of documents that are requested on the list of exemptions stated above (National, 2008). The Act sets limits and requirements as to which files can be deemed as safe to release and those that it considers too sensitive to divulge (United States Secret Service, 2008). It should be noted that the FOIA does advocate the divulgence of files and records of the Executive branch of the government (Secret Service, 2008). But the statute itself provides the limitations on the quality or kind of records that can be released (Secret Service, 2008).
The Freedom of Information Act does not give a blanket license to people to scrutinize government records (Secret Service, 2008). The FOIA only assures the privilege of the people to be able to request for these records and get a response to the written request (Secret Service, 2008). The law basically guarantees that a request that is denied must be given the reason for its denial (Secret Service, 2008). Also, the law stipulates that the denial can be appealed to the concerned agency, even affording the one that made the request of a day in court (Secret Service, 2008).
The Freedom of Information Act does not cover the records held by local or state authorities (Education, 2007). Records of private business or private individuals are also exempt from coverage of the law (Education, 2007). But most local and state bodies have their own corresponding statutes as to access to records and files of these bodies (Education, 2007). If the FOIA request is not covered by any of the restrictions covered above, the agency concerned must accommodate the request in ten working days (Encarta, 2008).
But the deadline may be lengthened by the agency if the request would involve obtaining the information from field procedures, if the request can only be done by the scrutiny of a large amount of data, or concerns other agencies (Encarta, 2008). The Federal government and some state bodies have enacted “Sunshine Laws” (Infoplease, 2005). These laws mandate that government bodies to hold meetings that are accessible to the public, which are announced ahead of the scheduled time (Infoplease, 2005).
Aside from the FOIA, there are a number of statutes that afford citizens access to the actions of government (Freedom Info, 2006). As mentioned earlier, the Sunshine Act requires the government to make accessible to the public all meetings of government agencies like the Federal Communications Commission (Freedom Info, 2006). Before the Freedom of Information Act was passed, the practice at the times was that a person who made a request must declare the reason for the request and made allowance for the government agency to deny or accede to the request (Answers, 2008).
This was to allow the concerned agency to weigh the merits of disclosing the records as against the need for secrecy (Answers, 2008). Usually, the result would be the denial of the request (Answers, 2008). The act remedied this act by ruling that a number of records are allowed to be obtained by the public (Answers, 2008). The policies and records that are available for public scrutiny include policy declarations and rulings of statutes and policies unpublished in the Federal Register, final and executory opinions from agency proceedings, and manuals that non-resalable but affect the public at large (Answers, 2008).
Another innovation introduced by the FOIA was the “any-person” access (Answers, 2008). In effect, the people requesting for these documents do not to state any reason that they are requesting for the documents (Answers, 2008). These innovations and the policy of access to information for the public significantly decrease the discretion of officials to refuse requests for public documents (Answers, 2008).