Who files the most FOIA requests? It’s not who you think.

March 17, 2017

Journalists, you probably think FOIA requests are about you.

But for the most part, they’re not. Journalists today comprise only a small fraction (7.6 percent) of requests under the Freedom of Information Act, a 1966 law enacted to help reporters hold the federal government accountable.

These days, businesses, law firms, and individuals are more prolific users of FOIA, according to the largest-ever analysis of FOIA request logs. Data guru Max Galka’s FOIA Mapper project set out to determine who uses the law by mining 229,000 requests directed to 85 government agencies.

Journalists led the way among requesters in just one category, those directed to the US Secret Service, while showing very little interest in records from Immigration & Customs Enforcement and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The top-five traditional media organizations for requesting federal records: The Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, The Nation, and The New York Times.

Here’s a closer look at FOIA Mapper’s findings:

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Who makes FOIA requests?

Share of FOIA requests by requester category (85 agencies combined)


Click or tap on the image below to see a larger, interactive version of this chart.



News media: 10 most frequent FOIA requesters

For every 10,000 requests in the FOIA Mapper database, this many were requested by…


Cory Schouten is a senior editor at CJR. He previously served as managing editor at Indianapolis Business Journal and a reporter for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.