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Here's what a FOIA request is and how you can file one in Michigan

Massive document leak reveal offshore accounts
Posted at 8:15 AM, Jan 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-26 18:50:51-05

(WXYZ) — It's News Literacy Week, and all week long, WXYZ and our parent company, Scripps, are committed to helping you learn more about credible news sources and build news literacy.

One of the ways that we learn about things from the government, and ways you can as well, is through the Freedom of Information Act, which goes by the acronym FOIA.

FOIA is an act that goes back to the 70s in Michigan and is "an act for public access to certain public records of public bodies; to permit certain fees; to prescribe the powers and duties of certain public officers and public bodies; to provide remedies and penalties; and to repeal certain acts and parts of acts."

Under the Freedom of Information Act, the public, including journalists, have access to public records for Michigan government bodies. There are some exceptions, which includes private information, trade secrets and more.

Anyone can file a FOIA request in Michigan, but there are also ways to check for records online before filing a FOIA request, as it may cost money.

The City of Detroit has an open data portal, and the State of Michigan also has a data portal.

View the Michigan FOIA pamphlet from 2017 below.
Michigan FOIA pamphlet from 2017 by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit on Scribd

If you'd like to file a FOIA, the National Freedom of Information Coalition has a sample FOIA request that you can use to fill in. Check it out below, and you just have to fill in the information in the brackets.

[Your Name]
[Street Address][
City, ST ZIP Code]

[Date]

[Name of Custodian of Records]
[Title]
[Company Name]
[Street Address]
[City, ST ZIP Code]

Dear [custodian of records]:

Under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act § 15.231 et seq., I am requesting an opportunity to inspect or obtain copies of public records that [Describe the records or information sought with enough detail for the public agency to respond. Be as specific as your knowledge of the available records will allow. But it is more important to describe the information you are seeking.]

If there are any fees for searching or copying these records, please inform me if the cost will exceed $______. However, I would also like to request a waiver of all fees in that the disclosure of the requested information is in the public interest and will contribute significantly to the public’s understanding of ___________ [Here, you can identify yourself as a representative of the news media if applicable and state that your request is related to news gathering purposes.] This information is not being sought for commercial purposes.

The Michigan Freedom of Information Act requires a response to this request within five days. If access to the records I am requesting will take longer than this amount of time, please contact me with information about when I might expect copies or the ability to inspect the requested records.

If you deny any or all of this request, please cite each specific exemption you feel justifies the refusal to release the information and notify me of the appeal procedures available to me under the law.

Thank you for considering my request.

Sincerely,

[Your Name]

[Your Phone number]