Freedom of Information Act

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 What Is Media and Entertainment Law?

Media and entertainment laws are the laws that govern legal areas that are found in the entertainment industry. Typically, this will include intellectual property issues and may also involve questions related to:

  • Employment law;
  • Contract law;
  • Immigration law;
  • Advertising law; and
  • International law.

The common areas of media and entertainment law include:

  • Communications and media;
  • Cyberspace law;
  • Entertainment law;
  • Gaming law;
  • Sports law; and
  • Television and radio broadcasting.

What Is Communications and Media?

Media laws are the laws that govern the regulation of communications. Communications and media laws involve many issues, such as:

  • Constitutional law;
  • Broadcasting law;
  • Defamation issues;
  • Privacy concerns; and
  • Other related issues.

Communication and media is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Who Regulates the Communications and Media Industry?

The communications and media industry is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The Communications Act of 1934 established the FCC in 1934.

The FCC regulates interstate and international communications made by:

  • Radio;
  • Television;
  • Wire;
  • Satellite; and
  • Cable.

The jurisdiction of the FCC covers all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and United States possessions. The FCC has 2 main goals or concerns.

The first is to provide stability to the communications marketplace while also facilitating the innovation that is required for the future. The second main goal of the FCC is to ensure that television and radio programming contact does not violate U.S. federal law standards.

Although the FCC is granted broad powers to regulate the communications industry, the FCC cannot censor television or radio broadcasts unless they depict utter indecent or obscene language over a broadcast station.

What Are the Goals of the FCC?

In addition to the goals discussed above, the FCC has additional goals that affect the communications and media industry, including:

  • Promoting competition: This supports the nation’s economy by ensuring that there is a comprehensive and sound competitive framework for communications services;
    • This framework should foster innovation and offer consumers meaningful choices in services;
    • This type of pro-competitive framework should be promoted domestically and overseas;
  • Broadband: This is accomplished by establishing regulatory policies that promote competition, innovation, and investment in broadband services and facilities while monitoring progress toward the deployment of broadband services in the U.S. and abroad;
  • Media: This is done by revising media regulations so that media ownership rules promote competition and diversity in a comprehensive, legally sustainable manner and facilitate the mandated migration to digital modes of delivery; and
  • Homeland security: This is done by:
    • providing leadership in evaluating and strengthening the nation’s communications infrastructure;
    • ensuring rapid restoration of the communications infrastructure in the event of a disruption; and
    • ensuring that essential public safety and public health personnel have effective communications services that are available to them in an emergency situation.

What Is the Freedom of Information Act?

Congress enacted the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in 1966. Under government laws, the purpose of this act was to provide the American public with greater access to federal government records.

The Electronics Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 1996 (E-FOIA) was created in order to provide the public greater access online to government records. The FOIA allows the public to access information held by the government, which may cause violation of privacy laws issues to arise.

The FOIA is often read in conjunction with the Privacy Act. This act gives individuals the ability to access government records about themselves.

What Type of Information Is Available upon a FOIA Request?

Under the rules of the FOIA and the FCC, an individual is permitted to obtain copies of FCC records unless those records contain information that is exempt under the FOIA from mandatory disclosure.

There are certain categories of information that are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, including:

  • Records containing classified national defense or foreign policy materials;
  • Trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person and privileged or confidential;
  • Inter- or intra-agency memoranda or letters which would not be available to a party in litigation with the agency;
  • Personnel, medical and similar files, disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy; and
  • Records compiled for law enforcement purposes.

How Do I File a FOIA Request?

If an individual is seeking to file a FOIA request, documents can be obtained by visiting FCC headquarters at 445 12th Street, S.W., Washington D.C. 20554. However, the majority of government documents are available on the Federal Communications Commissions (FCC) website.

What Types of Records Are Exempt?

The majority of federal government documents are available for the public to view. There are, however, 9 exceptions, including:

  • National defense or foreign policy documents;
  • Internal agency rules;
  • Information that is exempted by statute;
  • Privileged financial institution materials;
  • Federal agency internal memoranda;
  • A personnel file that is in violation of privacy laws;
  • Law enforcement records;
  • Records of financial agency operations; and
  • Oil well data.

Does the FCC Charge a Fee for Viewing Files?

Yes, the FCC imposes a fee based on the salary level of the employee who is finding and reproducing any relevant records. The FCC, however, will notify any individual who has a potential fee over $25.

Additionally, fee waivers are available upon request, depending on the circumstances.

What Information Is Not Available Under FOIA?

The FOIA provides exceptions for certain records that prevents those records from being accessed by the public, including:

  • Classified national defense and foreign relations information;
  • Internal agency rules and practices;
  • Information that is prohibited from being disclosed by another law or laws;
  • Trade secrets and other confidential business information;
  • Intra-agency or inter-agency communications that are protected by a legal privilege;
  • Information involving matters of personal privacy;
  • Certain information compiled for law enforcement purposes;
  • Information that relates to to the supervision of a financial institution; and
  • Geological information on wells.

What Is the Freedom of Information Act vs. Privacy Act?

As noted above, the FOIA allows an individual to obtain copies of records that have been maintained by a federal agency. The FOIA is typically used to request a copy of reports on certain records or a compilation of records on a particular subject.

Unlike the FOIA, The Privacy Act of 1974 does not let an individual request just any records. Instead, this act allows individuals to request, review, or ask for corrections in federal records that are specifically about them.

No other individual may request these records. In addition, an individual cannot request records about another individual. Most individuals typically use this act to view the records that federal agencies may have on them.

How Do I Take Advantage of These Laws?

Both the FOIA and the Privacy Act provide individuals with the opportunity to request records that are maintained by the federal executive branch. It is important to note that this does not cover records held by certain entities, including:

  • Congressional
  • Judicial;
  • State; or
  • Private.

An individual must identify the agency that is most likely to have the material they are seeking prior to filing a request. Steps for requesting documents under each law include:

  • FOIA: If requesting a record under FOIA, an individual should first talk to the agency that you believe has the material;
    • Frequently, the agency will make the information available free of charge or sell it to the individual without having to invoke their right under the Freedom of Information Act;
    • Some agencies may require that an individual file a request through the agency’s FOIA office; and
  • Privacy Act: If requesting a record under the Privacy Act, an individual must typically provide a written request and additional proof of identity.

What Information Is Not Available under the Privacy Act?

The Privacy Act provides exemptions for certain records, which include:

  • Classified information on national security;
  • Records concerning criminal investigations; and
  • Information that would identify a confidential source.

Should I Consult an Attorney?

If you have any questions or concerns related to the Freedom of Information Act, it may be helpful to consult with a government lawyer. Your lawyer can help you request information under the FOIA.

Because there are exemptions to information that can be released under the FOIA, your lawyer can argue your case in court and may be able to force the FCC to comply with disclosure requirements, if necessary.

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