The Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), located §2.2-3700 et seq. of the Code of Virginia, guarantees citizens of the Commonwealth and representatives of the media access to public records held by public bodies, public officials, and public employees.
Definition of a Public Record
A public record is any writing recording -- regardless of whether it is a paper record, an electronic file, an audio or video recording, or any other format -- that is prepared or owned, by or in the possession of a public body or its officers, employees or agents in the transaction of public business. All public records are presumed to be open, and many only be withheld if a specific, statutory exemption applies.
Commonly Used Exemptions:
The Code of Virginia allows any public body to withhold certain records from public disclosure. These include:
Personnel records (§ 2.2-3705.1 (1) of the Code of Virginia)
Records subject to attorney-client privilege (§ 2.2-3705.1 (2)) or attorney work product (§ 2.2-3705.01 (3))
Vendor proprietary information (§ 2.2-3705.1 (6))
Records relating to the negotiation and award of a contract, prior to a contract being awarded (§ 2.2-3705.01 (12))
The policy of FOIA states that the purpose of FOIA is to promote an increases awareness by all persons of governmental activities. In furthering this policy, FOIA requires that the law be interpreted liberally, in favor of access, and that any exemption allowing public records to be withheld must be interpreted narrowly. Your FOIA Rights:
You have the right to request to inspect or receive copies of public records, or both.
You have the right to request that any charges for the requested records be estimated in advance.
If you believe that your FOIA rights have been violated, you may file a petition in district or circuit court to compel compliance with FOIA. Alternatively, you may contact the FOIA Council for a nonbinding advisory opinion. The Council may be reached at (804)225-3056 or toll free at 1-866-448-4100.