Federal agencies keep records like many other organizations and sometimes they have records that would help people in various ways. So, because these agencies are servants of the public these records can be requested by someone who has a good reason to see them. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a mechanism that helps people obtain certain records that are controlled by the United States government. So what is FOIA and what kind of records can or cannot be disclosed to an individual?
The FOIA was enacted on July 5, 1967 by Congress to allow citizens by law be able to obtain federal information. There are nine exemptions however that allows the FOIA to deny a person’s request for information. These nine exemptions are listed for the U.S Department of State Freedom of Privacy Act:
Classified information for national defense or foreign policy: An executive order from the President would be an example of this.
Internal personnel rules and practices: An example would be personnel’s lunch hour regulations.
Information that is exempt under other laws: Disclosure on one’s Taxes and Tax return is an example of this exemption.
Trade secrets and confidential business information: An example is Coke’s secret formula or Chevron’s gas chemical composition.
Inter-agency or intra-agency memoranda or letters that are protected by legal privileges: A person being investigated by the FBI is an example.
Personnel and medical files: An example would be an employee’s psychological assessment.
Law enforcement records or information: An example is the disclosure of a law enforcement investigation on a murder suspect.
Information concerning bank supervision: Specific reports prepared by the Federal Reserve is an example of this exemption.
Geological and geophysical information: This exemption is rarely used but an example would be maps of wells and/or other geological information.
There are also other Acts intended to protect individuals which are the Privacy Act and the Sunshine Act. The Privacy Act was enacted in 1974 and protects individuals records from becoming public and allows records to be kept private. Its intention was to protect individuals from having their private information misused by the Federal Government. It allows private citizens to find out how Federal agencies collect personal private information and what they use the information for. It ensures the protection of personal information and requires that this type of information can only be given to another individual if it is allowed or agreed to by the individual through a release of information.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was put in place in 2010 and intended as an act of comprehensive health care reform that tried to make health care available for more people. One part of the ACA is the Physician Payments Sunshine Act or the, “Sunshine Act.” In 2013, the Sunshine Act was enacted with the purpose to monitor payments from drug and medical device manufacturers to doctors and hospitals. The payments that it keeps track of include monetary payments or transfer of any other kind of valuable items. This transparency is supposed to keep manufacturers of drugs, medical devices, and other biologicals or any other medical supplies from unduly influencing physicians and teaching doctors and/or hospitals, and research medical entities to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).
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