As stated earlier, the basis of the Freedom of Information Act in the maxim of the sovereignty of the people and the right of the citizenry for self-rule (Doty, 2000). But the tradition itself carries several vital elements (Doty, 2000). One, there is an inherent distrust by the people in the activities, overt or covert, of the government (Doty, 2000). This distrust is coupled by misgivings about the state itself (Doty, 2000). Second, the people must have the capacity and recognize their responsibility to question, scrutinize or challenge the activities of the state (Doty, 2000).
Third, the people must have access to information that is made available by the state (Doty, 2000). These elements have been marked out in the First Amendment of the United States (Doty, 2000). In the Amendment, this is the freedom of speech, the press and the right to seek redress for grievances (Doty, 2000). But do these rights mean that the information being made available to the public is now totally free to be had? Freedom of Information Act: The right to know (? )
To restate, the Freedom of Information Act, or Public Law 5, ensures the right of the public to have access to information (National, 2008). In effect, the FOIA provides an avenue for people to have access to government records and files held by the Executive branch of the United States government (Shira Diner Kenneth O’Reilly, 2008). This ambit covers also government-owned and controlled entities (O’ Reilly, 2008). But the law does not apply to the legislative branch or to elective officials (O’ Reilly, 2008).
In short, the law ensures the right of the people to records of Federal offices or agencies: the offices of the Federal government must dispense with requests for these records upon receiving a request for the same in writing (United States Department of Education, 2007). But also in the law, there are exemptions to the release of records to prevent a number of files from getting divulged (Education, 2007). Totalling about nine, the exemptions to the operation of this law includes:
-Records that are marked as “classified” or “Top Secret” in the context of defence and foreign policy concerns of the United States (Education, 2007); -Records that contain purely personnel or internal practices (Education, 2007); -Records that are specifically deemed to be exempt by other pertinent laws (Education, 2007); -Information that is privy that concerns trade or business secrets or financial or commercial records (Education, 2007);
-Inter-agency memos or those circulated within an agency, except under special times (Education, 2007); -Personal, medical and other conjucting records. Such divulgence could warrant an invasion of privacy (Education, 2007); -Records of law enforcement agencies in the course of an investigation (Education, 2007); -Documents regarding operations, financial stability of financial entities (Education, 2007), and; -Maps and location of oil and gas wells (O’Reilly, 2008) in geographical or geophysical documents (Education, 2007).