A quick guide to using FOIA

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The Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, is a law that provides the public the right to access public records from a government entity. There’s a federal FOIA, which covers federal agencies and government offices, and a Michigan FOIA, which covers state and local governments. The federal and state FOIA laws are slightly different, but operate under the same concepts.

East Lansing resident Steve Helt said he might think to try to make an official public records request under the FOIA law given how easy it is to access information on the Internet.

“I think most of information is not secret anymore,” Helt said. “If I want to find something, I can get it on YouTube or Google.”

But not every government record is put on the Internet, and that makes FOIA a potentially important tool. FOIA can help hold politicians and other government officials accountable for their actions.

“I think, as for democratic society, it’s very important for people to know what it’s going on and the things are happening,” East Lansing resident Paul Kato said.

The National Freedom of Information Coalition offers sample letters you can use to make a federal or state public records request.