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Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-231, 110 Stat. 3048 (Oct. 2, 1996).
The Act establish a new fourth category of "reading room" records — FOIA-processed records that the agency determines are likely to be the subject of subsequent requests for substantially the same records. Agency personnel are to determine which FOIA-processed records fall within this new reading room category based upon their familiarity with the records' subject matter, their knowledge of FOIA requests received in the past, and their best judgment of the types of requests likely to be received by their agency in the future. Agencies should place in their reading rooms all records determined to fall within this new category, regardless of their form or format.
Agencies must process any FOIA request received for such records even after placing those records in their reading rooms, if the requester so chooses. In some cases involving "first-party" requests, agencies must delete any information the disclosure of which would violate the Privacy Act of 1974 or the Trade Secrets Act before placing FOIA-processed records in their reading rooms. Agencies do not have to make available in their reading rooms any records that are promptly published and offered for sale. Larger agencies with multiple components and decentralized FOIA operations may have separate reading rooms for each agency component.
In making determinations as to whether records fall into the new reading room category, agencies should keep in mind that its purpose is to reduce the number of future requests for the same information -- so if certain records are of interest to only a finite group of requesters who have already made a "flurry" of requests, there should be no need to make those records available in an agency's reading room. See FOIA Update, Spring 1997, at 2 (citing House Report).
Additionally, agencies are required, as of November 1, 1997, to make all reading room records created by them on or after November 1, 1996, available electronically. The electronic availability obligation applies not only to records in the new fourth reading room category, but also to more "traditional" reading room records such as administrative staff manuals as they are updated to replace those created prior to November 1, 1996.
A record created prior to November 1, 1996, but processed for disclosure with deletions after November 1, 1996, is not subject to the electronic availability requirement. Only records created by the agency are subject to the electronic availability requirement.