Definition of Public Record

The act defines public records as all records, reports, forms, writings, letters, memoranda, books, papers, maps, photographs, microfilms, cards, tapes, recordings, electronic data processing records, recorded information and all other documentary materials under the control of any public body. 1

Exemptions to Public Records

Exemptions are highly detailed and expansive. Some exemptions belong to broad categories laid out in the act, while others are much shorter and more specific. There are over 25 categories alone, although again some are much less wordy than others. See 5 ILCS 140/7.

Who Can Make The Request?


Response Timeframe

5 working days. 2

Information on Fees

Fees are a specific and detailed part of the Illinois FOIA, with some unique aspects included. Perhaps the most interesting is if an agency doesn’t respond within five business days they may not charge any fee. As for more typical non-electronic records the law states that, “a public body may charge fees reasonably calculated to reimburse its actual cost for reproducing and certifying public records and for the use, by any person, of the equipment of the public body to copy records.” 5 ILCS 140/6(b). No fees may be charged for records requests that amount to under 50 black and white pages and they only charge a copying fee of $0.15 per page, and they may not charge for search time. Records that are in color must be charged at the actual cost of copying the records, and no more. Electronic records may only be charged for the amount of the cost of the medium that the record is copied onto. For driving records it is up to the Illinois Vehicle Code to set the fee. The Act also states that “the imposition of a fee not consistent with subsections (6)(a) and (b) constitutes a denial of access to public records for the purposes of judicial review.” 5 ILCS 140/6(d). 3

Enforcement Mechanisms

The Public Access Counselor is in charge of enforcement of the Illinois FOIA. The Counselor reviews each rejection by a public body to a requester and determines if the exemption was used properly. However, this may not in itself be enough to trigger actual penalties against an agency. However, if in a court proceeding an agency has been found guilty of willfully and purposefully failing to comply with the act, a penalty of between $2,500 and $5,000 can be leveraged by the court. This is among the harshest FOIA penalties in the nation. 4

Attorney Fees

Yes, if in a court of law an agency is found to have in bad faith denied a request, a requester can win back reasonable attorney’s fees. 5

Do You Want to Make a Public Records Request?

The public records process begins with a public records request. Our guide outlines best practices for drafting well-defined requests for public information.

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Questions? Contact the Goldwater Institute.

If you have any questions regarding this guide or your rights to public information, please contact the Goldwater Institute at to determine if the Institute can help you access information necessary to hold your government accountable.

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