Illinois Freedom of Information Act

What is the Illinois Freedom of Information Act?

A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a law that gives individuals the right to view and make copies of certain public documents that are in the custody of the government. A federal or state FOIA grants either full or partial disclosure of records, depending on the contents of records and the record subjects’ privacy rights. The Illinois Freedom of Information Act is codified in the Illinois Compiled Statutes (ILCS) as 5 ILCS 140/1 et seq. It was enacted in 1984 to promote the transparency and accountability of public agencies at all government levels. Based on the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, the public has the right to access certain records in control of public agencies upon written request.

The Illinois FOIA was modified in 2010. Some changes made to the law are:

  • Attorney fees should be paid when individuals who are denied access to certain records seek judicial review in Circuit Courts.
  • Records should be made available electronically if possible.
  • There will be a fine of $2500 - $5,000 for government bodies that willfully and intentionally fail to comply with the law.
  • The prescribed response time for record requests was reduced from seven days to five days.
  • The first 50 pages of copies of public records are made free, but copies after that are to be charged at 15 cents fee per page.
  • The Office of the Attorney General of Illinois was authorized to determine what records are public and settle disputes over FOIA requests.

What is Covered Under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act?

According to Section 2(c) of the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, public records include documents, photographs, recordings, electronic data processing records, documentary materials, and other recorded information in the custody of any public agency. The records covered under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act pertain to the transaction of public businesses and are prepared, generated, and maintained by government agencies. Interested persons may inspect or make copies of these records upon request unless the records are exempt from disclosure.

Some of the public records covered under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act are:

  • Records of public funds
  • Certified payroll records submitted to any government agency (contractors’ social security numbers, employees’ addresses, and telephone numbers must be redacted from the records before disclosure before access is granted)
  • Arrest reports
  • Non-confidential court records

What Records are Exempt from the Freedom of Information Act in Illinois?

The Illinois Freedom of Information Act exempts certain records from public disclosure because the records contain highly personal information, which may jeopardize public safety if released. The Illinois FOIA also exempts records in which the subjects’ privacy rights outweigh any legitimate public interest in getting access to the records. However, such records may be accessed if one of the record subjects consents to the disclosure in writing. Individuals may also access exempted private information if the disclosure is required by another section of the Illinois FOIA, a federal or state law, or a court order. Some records exempted from the Freedom of Information Act in Illinois are:

  • Information that is not permitted to be disclosed by federal or state law or rules and regulations implementing federal or State law
  • Trade secrets and commercial or financial information
  • Law enforcement records created for law enforcement purposes
  • Records affecting or relating to the security of correctional institutions and detention facilities
  • Minutes of meetings of public agencies closed to the public
  • Any proprietary information related to the operation of a self-insurance pool, jointly self-administered health and accident cooperative, or an intergovernmental risk management association
  • Scoring keys, test questions, and other examination data used to determine the qualifications of an applicant for a license or employment
  • Information that would reveal or might lead to the disclosure of private information, programs, codes, algorithms, or secret keys intended to be used to create electronic or digital signatures under the Illinois Electronic Commerce Security Act
  • Records maintained by any government agency, created during administrative enforcement proceedings, and for law enforcement purposes are exempted if disclosure would:
    • Interfere with unresolved or reasonably concluded law enforcement proceedings conducted by any law enforcement or correctional agency to whom the record request is sent
    • Hinder active administrative enforcement proceedings conducted by the public agency that is the recipient of the request
    • Create a substantial likelihood that an individual will be deprived of a fair trial or an impartial hearing
    • Reveal the identity of a confidential source, private information provided only by the confidential source, or an individual who files complaints with or provides information to law enforcement, investigative, administrative, or penal agencies. However, the identities of witnesses to traffic accidents, traffic accident reports, and rescue reports shall be provided by local government agencies, unless the disclosure would hinder an active criminal investigation
    • Disclose unique or specialized investigative techniques

How Do I File an Illinois Freedom of Information Act Request?

A person seeking to view or obtain copies of a public record in Illinois may file an Illinois Freedom of Information Act request and direct it to the FOIA officer in charge of the public record. The Illinois government website provides the contact information and addresses of all state agencies’ FOIA officers. The FOIA officers are responsible for responding to requests sent to them. Some government agencies provide application forms for record requests. Applicants may get these forms through the websites of the respective government agencies in charge of the records being requested or by contacting the FOIA officers of these government agencies. Alternatively, applicants may send written requests, which should include the following information:

  • Specific identification or description of the records being requested
  • Whether the request is for commercial purposes
  • Date
  • Applicant’s name
  • Full address and contact information
  • A daytime phone number

To expedite the search process, an applicant should provide as much information as possible on the subject matter. After completing a FOIA request form or writing a request letter, an applicant may send it to the government agency in charge of the record by mail, personal delivery, fax, e-mail, or other available means.

An applicant may access the records in the custody of the Illinois Department of Human Services (List of Records Maintained by Illinois Department of Human Services) by sending a written request by email to DHS.FOIAOfficer@illinois.gov or by mail to:

FOIA Officer
Office of the General Counsel
Illinois Department of Human Services
69 West Washington Street, 9th Floor
Chicago IL 60602
Fax: (312) 814-6693

For records in the custody of the Office of the Illinois Secretary of State, an applicant may complete the Illinois Secretary of State FOIA Request Form and submit it by:

Illinois Secretary of State
Executive Counsel
17 North State Street
Suite 1179
Chicago, IL 60602

For any other record, an individual may check the Illinois government website to get the contact information and address of the state agency in charge of the records and send written requests to them.

What is the Cost of a Freedom of Information Act Request in Illinois?

There is no fee attached to getting the first 50 pages of a record that is in black-and-white print and on letter or legal size (8 ½ x 11 or 11 x 14) pages. However, an applicant will be required to pay 15 cents per page for any additional pages. If color copies or unusual size copies are requested, the law permits the government agency to charge the original cost of copying the record. A requester may apply for a waiver or reduction in copying fees if:

  • The request is for information on the welfare, health, safety, or the general public’s legal rights.
  • No commercial or personal gain will be received from record disclosure
  • There is an intent to distribute the information

How Long Does it Take to Respond to a Freedom of Information Act Request in Illinois?

The Illinois Freedom of Information Act requires that a public agency responds to a FOIA request within five business days after they received a request. However, the required initial response time of five business days may be extended by an additional five business days from the date of the original due date if:

  • The request requires an extensive search.
  • The requested information is not in the location where the request was sent to.
  • The request requires the agency to gather a substantial number of documents.
  • The agency has not been able to locate the requested records, and additional effort is required to find them.
  • The records need to be reviewed by staff who can determine whether they are exempt from FOIA.
  • The request requires the public agency to consult with another public agency that has considerable interest in the request's subject matter.
  • The requested records cannot be delivered without unduly burdening the government agency or interfering with its operations.

If there is likely to be a delay in getting the request, the law requires the public agency to notify the requester in writing within five business days after receiving the request. The written letter must reference a specific legal reason under the FOIA to justify the extension and specify when the requested information will be produced.

If a requester receives a denial response from a public agency, the requester has the right to file a written request for review of the denial with the Public Access Counselor (PAC) in the Attorney General’s Office. The requester must sign the written request for review and include a copy of the FOIA request and the public agency's response to the request. The requester must file the written request for review within 60 calendar days of the public agency’s final response or the response due date. The request for review should be submitted to:

Cara Smith
Public Access Counselor
Public Access Bureau
500 South 2nd Street
Springfield, IL 62706
E-mail: CSmith@atg.state.il.us
FOIA Hotline: 1 (877) 299-FOIA or (877) 299-3642
Direct Line: (312) 814-5526

An applicant denied access to a record can also seek judicial review by filing a suit for injunctive or declaratory relief in a Circuit Court.