Note: This page covers information specific to Illinois. For general information concerning access to government records see the Access to Government Records section of this guide.
You have a statutory right to inspect a vast number of the Illinois' public records using the state's Freedom of Information Act (IL FOIA). See chapter 5, act 140 of the Illinois Compiled Statutes (Ill. Comp. Stat.). Additionally, you are not required to disclose your reasons for requesting the information.
What Records Are Covered in Illinois
What Government Bodies Are Covered
You are entitled to inspect and copy records of "public bodies", including legislative, executive, administrative, or advisory bodies of the State, State universities and colleges, counties, townships, cities, villages, incorporated towns, school districts and all other municipal corporations, boards, bureaus, committees, or commissions of this State. See 5 Ill. Comp. Stat. 140/2. Note that Access to Government Meetings in Illinois and Illinois State Court Records has more information on how to access records from those government entities.
What Types of Records Can Be Requested
You can inspect all "public records" of the government bodies subject to the IL FOIA. The term "public records" is broadly defined to include all documents, books, maps, photographs, microfilms, cards, tapes, recordings, electronic data processing records, recorded information prepared, used, received, possessed or under the control of any public body, regardless of whether medium or format. See 5 Ill. Comp. Stat. 140/2(c).
A public body may refuse disclosure of the requested records if one or more of the following statutory exemptions applies:
- records exempted under another statute
- information that would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of an individual's privacy
- records compiled by any public body for administrative enforcement proceedings
- certain types of criminal history record information from criminal justice agencies
- records that relate to or affect the security of correctional institutions and detention facilities.
- advisory internal communications that are meant to assist with a final agency determination of policy
- trade secrets or commercial or financial information
- records containing proposals and bids to enter into any contract until the time the proposals and bids are to be opened publicly
- valuable formulae, computer geographic systems, designs, drawings and research data obtained or produced by any public body when disclosure could reasonably be expected to produce private gain or public loss
- test questions and answers, and scoring keys used to develop, administer or score an academic examination or determined the qualifications of an applicant for a license or employment
- building and infrastructure plans whose disclosure would compromise security
- library records identifying library users with specific materials
- minutes of meetings of public bodies closed to the public as provided in the Open Meetings Act until the public body makes the minutes available to the public
- communications between a public body and an attorney or auditor representing the public body that would not be subject to discovery in litigation
- information received by a primary or secondary school, college or university under its procedures for the evaluation of faculty members by their academic peers.
- administrative or technical information associated with a public body's computer processing operations that would compromise security of the system
- any documents or materials relating to collective negotiating matters between public bodies and their employees or representatives, that are not the final contract or agreement
- drafts, notes, recommendations and memoranda pertaining to the financing and marketing transactions of the public body
- records, documents and information relating to real estate purchase negotiations until those negotiations have been completed or otherwise terminated
- proprietary information and records related to the operation of an intergovernmental risk management association or self-insurance pool or jointly self-administered health and accident cooperative or pool.
- information concerning a university's adjudication of student or employee grievance or disciplinary cases that would reveal the identity of the student or employee, except for the final outcome of the cases
- course materials or research materials used by faculty members
- information related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of a public body.
- information used by a public body responsible for the regulation or supervision of financial institutions or insurance companies, unless disclosure is otherwise required by state law
- information the disclosure of which is restricted under Section 5-108 of the Public Utilities Act.
- manuals or instruction to staff that relate to establishment or collection of liability for any State tax or that relate to investigations by a public body to determine violation of any criminal law
- applications, related documents, and medical records received by the Experimental Organ Transplantation Procedures Board
- insurance or self insurance claims, loss or risk management information, records, data, advice or communications
- information and records held by the Department of Public Health and its authorized representatives relating to known or suspected cases of sexually transmissible disease
- information exempted under Section 30 of the Radon Industry Licensing Act
- performance evaluations under Section 55 of the Architectural, Engineering, and Land Surveying Qualifications Based Selection Act
- security portions of system safety program plans, investigation reports, surveys, schedules, lists, data, or information compiled, collected, or prepared by or for the Regional Transportation Authority under the Bi-State Transit Safety Act
- information exempted under Section 50 of the Illinois Prepaid Tuition Act
- information exempted under the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act
- information that would disclose secret or confidential information intended to be used to create electronic or digital signatures under the Electronic Commerce Security Act
- information contained in a local emergency energy plan
- information concerning the distribution of surcharge moneys collected and remitted by wireless carriers under the Wireless Emergency Telephone Safety Act
- vulnerability assessments, security measures, and response policies or plans that are designed to identify, prevent, or respond to potential attacks upon a community's population or systems, facilities, or installations, but only to the extent that disclosure could reasonably be expected to jeopardize the effectiveness of the measures or the safety of the personnel who implement them or the public
- maps and other records regarding the location or security of generation, transmission, distribution, storage, gathering, treatment, or switching facilities owned by a utility or by the Illinois Power Agency
- law enforcement officer identification information or driver identification information compiled by a law enforcement agency or the Department of Transportation
- information provided to a residential health care facility resident sexual assault and death review team or the Executive Council under the Abuse Prevention Review Team Act
- information provided to the predatory lending database created pursuant to the Residential Real Property Disclosure Act
- defense budgets and petitions for certification of compensation and expenses for court appointed trial counsel as provided under the Capital Crimes Litigation Act
- information contained in or related to proposals, bids, or negotiations related to electric power procurement under the Illinois Power Agency Act and the Public Utilities Act
A public body must provide any segregable non-exempt portions of otherwise exempt records. Consult the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press' Open Government Guide: Illinois, to better understand the exemptions for the IL FOIA.
How to Request Records in Illinois
Under the IL FOIA, you are entitled to make a request in person or in writing, but the Illinois Attorney General recommends making requests in writing, because time limits and appeal processes are only activated upon the submission of a written request.
The Act does not stipulate what a written request must require, but the letter should be addressed to the freedom of information officer of the relevant agency and contain, as appropriate:
- A statement that you are requesting records under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act
- A clear description of the records that you are seeking
- Your name and contact details
- A demand that if your request is denied, the agency set out the exact statutory citation authorizing the denial
You may also find the Illinois Attorney General's sample FOIA request letter helpful in shaping your letter.
What Are Your Remedies in Illinois
If your request is denied, make sure the agency has put the denial in writing, setting out the legal basis upon which they claim the denial is justified. From here, you have several options:
- Contact the office of Public Access Counselor in the office of the Attorney General for assistance
- Appeal the decision to the head of the public body - see 5 Ill. Comp. Stat. 140/10(a)
- File a lawsuit in court to enforce compliance - see 5 Ill. Comp. Stat. 140/11
If you wish to file a lawsuit to enforce compliance with your request, refer to our section on Finding Legal Help for more information on how to get legal assistance to help you assess the merits of a potential lawsuit against the agency.