Freedom of Information/Privacy Act | Federal Bureau of Investigation (2022)

Learn all about FBI records—including how to access previously released records and how to request records in accordance with the Freedom of Information (FOIA) and Privacy Acts, collectively referred to as FOIPA. Please review the information below to assist you with understanding these records and the operations of the FBI.

Understanding FBI Records

The FBI—along with every other government agency—creates and obtains records as it carries out its day to day operations. In the Bureau, these records generally include investigative files, personnel files, and policy guides. A majority of these documents are indexed in our Central Records System (CRS)—an electronic index that allows Bureau personnel to query requested information. While the CRS contains most of the FBI's records, some of our earliest records were not indexed, and some records have been transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration.

Freedom of Information/Privacy Act | Federal Bureau of Investigation (1)

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Obtaining FBI Records

Records Available Now

A large number of FBI records are available for public review on the FBI's electronic FOIA Library (The Vault).

  • Types of records that the FBI provides electronically on The Vault include, but are not limited to:
  • Records on The Vault are organized alphabetically by name or topic. Users may also locate records by browsing various categories such as civil rights, counterterrorism, popular culture, unusual phenomenon, and violent crime.
  • If you would rather receive a physical copy of records that are currently available on The Vault, you may submit a FOIA request by fax, standard mail, or through eFOIPA, the FBI's electronic FOIPA portal. Please note that physical copies of these records will be of the same quality as those available on The Vault.

Records Available by Request

To receive records that are not already available on The Vault, you may submit an FOIPA request by fax, standard mail, or through eFOIPA, the FBI's recently deployed electronic FOIPA portal. The eFOIPA system allows requesters to electronically submit and receive correspondence regarding their FOIPA requests.

For complete information on when and how to submit an FOIPA request, please review Requesting FBI Records.

To learn what information you will receive, how long it takes, and how to file an appeal, please review What Happens After Making a Request.

If you have questions about preparing or submitting requests, you may e-mail foipaquestions@fbi.gov or call our FOIA Requester Service at Center (540) 868-1535 to hear helpful recorded information.

TheRecord/Information Dissemination Section (RIDS) in the FBI Information Management Division is responsible for the release of records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Privacy Act.

What Happens After Making a Request

How Long it Takes to Receive Information

  • Requests are handled in the order in which they are received according to a multi-track system. Please remember that the FBI receives a large number of requests on a daily basis.
  • Requests are divided into four different processing tracks based on the number of pages responsive to the request:
    • Small processing track (50 pages or less)
    • Medium processing track (51 to 500 pages)
    • Large processing track (501 to 4,999 pages)
    • Extra-Large processing track (5,000 pages or more)
  • Requests that encompass a high volume of responsive records will take a longer time to process than requests that encompass a small volume of responsive records.
  • If your request encompasses more than 500 responsive pages, an FBI representative will contact you in an effort to reduce the fees and the processing time associated with your request.
  • To check the status of an existing request, requesters are encouraged to use the FBI’s FOIPA online status tool at https://vault.fbi.gov/fdps-1/@@search-fdps. This tool can also be found on the FOIPA Status tab at the top of this page. Status updates are performed on a weekly basis. The status of a closed request will be available for six months following the date of closure.
  • If you have questions regarding any FBI FOIPA-related matters, please contact us at foipaquestions@fbi.gov, or contact our Public Information Office at (540) 868-4593. If you have already submitted a request, please be prepared to provide your FOIPA request number so that we may better assist you.
    • Questions about Identity History Summary Checks: The public information officer cannot answer questions about Identity History Summary Checks (commonly called rap sheets, background checks, police certificates, or criminal arrest records). All requests or questions related to Identity History Summary Checks should be directed to the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division in Clarksburg, West Virginia at (304) 625-2000.
    • Questions about Name Check Requests: The public information officer cannot answer questions about Name Check requests. Information regarding Name Check requests can be found on the FBI’s National Name Check Program webpage. Please note that the National Name Check Program only accepts requests submitted by other federal agencies; requests received from the general public will not be accepted.

What You Will Receive After FBI Processing

After records responsive to your request have been processed, you will receive the following items:

  • Releasable documents
  • An FOIPA release letter citing the number of pages reviewed, released, and any exemptions (Title 5, U.S. Code, Section 552/552a) that were applied during the processing of your request. Please see the Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act exemptions for more information. If there were any duplication and/or processing fees associated with your request, costs and payment instructions will be provided to you in the letter.

Appeals

If you are not satisfied with the results of your request, you may file an appeal by writing to the Director of the Office of Information Policy (OIP/DOJ) at the following address:

U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Information Policy
441 G Street NW,Sixth Floor
Washington, D.C. 20001

In lieu of mailing your appeal, you may submit an appeal electronically after creating an account on OIP’s FOIA online portal.

If you submitted your request before July 1, 2016, your appeal to OIP must be postmarked or electronically transmitted within 60 days from the date of your letter in order to be considered timely. If you submitted your request after July 1, 2016, your appeal to OIP must be postmarked or electronically transmitted within 90 days from the date of your letter in order to be considered timely. If you are submitting your appeal through standard mail, both the letter and envelope should be clearly marked “Freedom of Information Act Appeal.” Please cite your FOIPA request number so that it may be easily identified.

Note: Please do not send your appeal request directly to the FBI. Appeal requests sent directly to the FBI will not be reviewed.

Prior to submitting an appeal to OIP, you have the option to seek dispute resolution services by contacting the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) at (877) 684-6448, or by emailing ogis@nara.gov. Alternatively, you may contact the FBI’s FOIPA public liaison by emailing foipaquestions@fbi.gov. If you submit your dispute resolution correspondence by email, the subject heading should clearly state “Dispute Resolution Services.” Please also cite your FOIPA request number so that it may be easily identified.

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Prepublication Review

FBI Policy on the Disclosure of Information by Current or Former Personnel

All current and former personnel* seeking to disclose FBI information outside of their official duties must submit the material to prepublication review. This requirement is set out in the FBI Prepublication Review Policy Guide and Nondisclosure Agreements signed upon entering service.

The Prepublication Review Office's (PRO) mission is to engage with current and former personnel to ensure any products created for public release are free from prohibited disclosures that could harm FBI personnel, assets, and operations.

What Qualifies for Prepublication Review?

Any proposed public disclosure by current and former FBI personnel (oral, written, or electronic) created in their personal capacity, outside of official duty requirements, must be submitted. Prepublication review is required prior to disclosures of drafts, initial manuscripts, and similar preliminary works to anyone including non-FBI attorneys, ghost writers, co-authors, and publishers. These products can include:

(Video) FOIA Exemptions 5 & 6

  • Books (fiction or nonfiction)
  • Newspaper and magazine articles or opinion pieces
  • Academic publications
  • Resumes, bios, and cover letters
  • Content appearing on websites, blogs, and social media
  • Speeches and public appearances
  • Podcasts
  • Scripts for any film, television, video, or theater project

The PRO will conduct a thorough review to assess whether the proposed publication includes prohibited information. We will
advise the requester of any concerns and then work with the requester to resolve them. Reviews can take 30 business days or longer, depending on material complexity and length.

How to Make a Request

  • Submit the full text at least 30 working days in advance of the proposed disclosure.
  • Provide your full name, title, and date range of service.
  • Attach full draft, to include tables of contents, indexes, images, or any other information you intend to include in the final publication.
    Pages and lines of the draft should be numbered (for reference) and the draft should be unlocked and in a common document type (.doc, .pdf, etc.).
  • For larger bodies of work, describe the product, characters, FBI relevance, and if there are any other federal government agencies’ information within your work.
  • Provide resources or citations.

Submit materials by email to: fbiprepub@fbi.gov

Or mail to:
Prepublication Review Office
Information Management Division

200 Constitution Drive
Winchester, VA 22602-4842

Questions?

Phone: 540-678-7793
Email: fbiprepub@fbi.gov

*FBI Personnel are defined as “individuals employed by, detailed, or assigned to the FBI, including task force officers, members, and participants; members of the armed forces; experts and consultants to the FBI; industrial and commercial contractors, licensees, certificate holders, or grantees of the FBI, including all subcontractors; personal service contractors of the FBI; and any other category or person who acts for or on behalf of the FBI, as determined by the FBI Director.” [FBI Prepublication Review Policy Guide (1065PG)]

(Video) Public Information Act Training Video

Requesting FBI Records

FBI records can be requested through both the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Privacy Act. Please read this page carefully to ensure you are making the correct request.

FBI Vault

The Vault is the FBI's electronic FOIA Library, containing nearly 7,000 documents and other media that have been scanned from paper into digital copies so you can read them in the comfort of your home or office.

Additional Information

  • FBI Privacy Act Systems
  • Department of Justice/FBI Privacy Impact Assessments (PIAs)

FAQs

Can you FOIA the FBI? ›

If you would rather receive a physical copy of records that are currently available on The Vault, you may submit a FOIA request by fax, standard mail, or through eFOIPA, the FBI's electronic FOIPA portal. Please note that physical copies of these records will be of the same quality as those available on The Vault.

What is the FBI Privacy Act Statement? ›

This privacy act statement provides noncriminal justice applicants notification of how their fingerprints and associated information will be used by the FBI for noncriminal justice purposes, such as licensing and employment. It can be found on the back of the FD-258 fingerprint card.

How long do FBI FOIA requests take? ›

Even with this new definition, the FBI says that its average processing time for “simple” cases of 50 pages or less is 181 days - or slightly more than thirteen times the statutory limit. For complex cases, it's 659 days - nearly fifty times what's allowed by law.

What is the Freedom of Information Act and what does it cover? ›

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 provides public access to information held by public authorities. It does this in two ways: public authorities are obliged to publish certain information about their activities; and. members of the public are entitled to request information from public authorities.

How much does FBI FOIA cost? ›

When making a request, you may specify a willingness to pay a certain amount if you wish to pay more or less than the standard $25.

Are FBI investigations public record? ›

No. Such information is protected from public disclosure, in accordance with current law and Department of Justice and FBI policy. This policy preserves the integrity of the investigation and the privacy of individuals involved in the investigation prior to any public charging for violations of the law.

What are the three rights under the Privacy Act? ›

The Privacy Act provides protections to individuals in three primary ways. It provides individuals with: the right to request their records, subject to Privacy Act exemptions; the right to request a change to their records that are not accurate, relevant, timely or complete; and.

What are the three federal laws to protect privacy? ›

Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) — Protects children's privacy. Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) — Protects students' personal information. California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) — Protects privacy rights for residents of California.

What is a violation of the Privacy Act? ›

The Privacy Act allows for criminal penalties in limited circumstances. An agency official who improperly discloses records with individually identifiable information or who maintains records without proper notice, is guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to a fine of up to $5,000, if the official acts willfully.

What are the 9 exemptions to a FOIA request? ›

Reasons Access May Be Denied Under the FOIA
  • Exemption 1. Classified Documents Pertaining to National Defense and Foreign Policy. ...
  • Exemption 2. Internal Personnel Rules and Practices. ...
  • Exemption 3. Information Exempt Under Other Laws. ...
  • Exemption 4. ...
  • Exemption 5. ...
  • Exemption 6. ...
  • Exemption 7. ...
  • Exemption 8.

Why do FOIA requests get denied? ›

If the Bureau or Office that is the custodian of the records determines that there are no records responsive to your request, or that one or more of the FOIA exemptions described above applies to the documents you request, your request will be denied in writing.

What happens after a FOIA request? ›

A FOIA analyst will review your request to understand the type(s) of records you wish to obtain and assign your request to the appropriate program office(s) to search for responsive records. You will receive an acknowledgement letter with a control number and instructions for checking the status of your request.

What information is exempt from freedom of information? ›

Some exemptions require you to judge whether disclosure may cause a specific type of harm, for instance, endangering health and safety, prejudicing law enforcement, or prejudicing someone's commercial interests. These are called prejudice-based exemptions.

What information can I request under the Freedom of Information Act? ›

You can request any recorded information held by a public authority. This includes electronic and paper records, photographs and recordings. The law give you the right to access information that is already held. There is no obligation for a public authority to create information or provide explanations or advice.

What does the Freedom of Information Act requires? ›

(1) Every public authority shall for the purposes of this Act, appoint one or more officers as Public Information Officers. (2) Every Public Information Officer shall deal with requests for information and shall render reasonable assistance to any person seeking such information.

How do you know if the FBI is investigating you? ›

Usually, you will find out you are under investigation when agents come to your door, or otherwise approach you to ask you questions about a case you are suspected in. You may also hear from others that agents are asking questions about you.

Does the FBI keep files on everyone? ›

The FBI does not keep a file on everyone, but some people may have a file if they have been a victim in a case or an authorized third party has requested information about them. The FBI also has files of individuals, organizations, and businesses currently or previously under investigation.

Can you be charged for a freedom of information request? ›

If it is necessary to make a charge for a request we would let you know before we carry out any work on the request. In such cases payment must be received before we will send the information. Under FOI, we will not charge for staff time, unless other legislation allows this.

How long can the FBI investigate you? ›

Statute of Limitations in Federal Crime Cases

So if you have still not been charged after the time set by the statute of limitations, the investigation is effectively over. For most federal crimes, the statute of limitations is five years.

Does the FBI check your search history? ›

Answer: Not without a warrant.

Under the new House amendment, called the Lofgren-Davidson amendment, the FBI would first have to obtain a warrant before accessing a citizen's Web browsing and search information.

What happens when you tip the FBI? ›

In most cases, after tips are assessed they are routed to FBI field offices and local law enforcement agencies for follow-up.

What is an example of a violation of the right to privacy? ›

Intentionally violating someone's privacy when they're in solitude or seclusion could be grounds for a lawsuit. For example, if you tape a private customer conversation without approval and use the remarks on your website, you could face an invasion of privacy lawsuit.

What personal information is not protected by the Privacy Act? ›

What is not considered personal information under the CCPA? Personal information does not include publicly available information that is from federal, state, or local government records, such as professional licenses and public real estate/property records.

What are the two types of privacy violations? ›

Those four types are 1) intrusion on a person's seclusion or solitude; 2) public disclosure of embarrassing private facts about a person; 3) publicity that places a person in a false light in the public eye; and 4) appropriation, for the defendant's advantage, of the person's name or likeness.

Can my personal data be shared without permission? ›

Does an organisation always need my consent? No. Organisations don't always need your consent to use your personal data. They can use it without consent if they have a valid reason.

What type of personal information is protected by privacy laws? ›

The Privacy Act of 1974, as amended to present, including Statutory Notes (5 U.S.C. 552a), Protects records about individuals retrieved by personal identifiers such as a name, social security number, or other identifying number or symbol.

What are the exceptions to right to privacy? ›

The Constitution of India provides reasonable restrictions to the right to privacy in the “interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offense ...

What happens when right to privacy is violated? ›

Invasion of privacy is a tort based in common law allowing an aggrieved party to bring a lawsuit against an individual who unlawfully intrudes into his/her private affairs, discloses his/her private information, publicizes him/her in a false light, or appropriates his/her name for personal gain.

What is the punishment for violation of privacy? ›

Whoever, intentionally or knowingly captures, publishes or transmits the image of a private area of any person without his or her consent, under circumstances violating the privacy of that person, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years or with fine not exceeding two lakh rupees, or with ...

What is considered personal information under Privacy Act? ›

Further, PII is defined as information: (i) that directly identifies an individual (e.g., name, address, social security number or other identifying number or code, telephone number, email address, etc.) or (ii) by which an agency intends to identify specific individuals in conjunction with other data elements, i.e., ...

Which type of information is exempt? ›

Exemption 1: Information that is classified to protect national security. Exemption 2: Information related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency. Exemption 3: Information that is prohibited from disclosure by another federal law.

When can a freedom of information request be refused? ›

You can refuse requests if they are repeated, whether or not they are also vexatious. You can normally refuse to comply with a request if it is identical or substantially similar to one you previously complied with from the same requester.

Why would someone make a FOIA request? ›

What is a FOIA Request? A FOIA request can be used to request federal agency records for which access is currently restricted due to the presence of security-classified or other sensitive information.

What four elements must be placed in a FOIA request? ›

There are four basic elements to a FOIA request letter: The letter should state that the request is being made under the Freedom of Information Act. The letter should identify the records that are being sought as specifically as possible. The name and address of the requester must be included.

How long should a FOIA take? ›

Under the Act, most public authorities may take up to 20 working days to respond, counting the first working day after the request is received as the first day. For schools, the standard time limit is 20 school days, or 60 working days if this is shorter.

Under what circumstances does a government have a right to withhold information from the public? ›

The FOIA provides that when processing requests, agencies should withhold information only if they reasonably foresee that disclosure would harm an interest protected by an exemption, or if disclosure is prohibited by law.

How long does it take to hear back on a FOIA? ›

How Long Will It Take to Answer My FOIA Request? Under the statute, federal agencies are required to respond to a FOIA request within twenty working days, excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays.

Can a FOIA request be anonymous? ›

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests are not confidential. Once a FOIA request is received, it becomes a public record of the USGS. If the request contains personally identifying information or the request is deemed “sensitive,” we may redact information under FOIA Exemption 6 (personal privacy).

Does a FOIA request have to be in writing? ›

Under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act, anyone can request (and, subject to certain exemptions, receive) information held by a public authority. A request for information must be made in writing by letter, email or fax, provided it is received in legible form and is capable of being used for subsequent reference.

What is not covered by the Freedom of Information Act? ›

Recorded information includes printed documents, computer files, letters, emails, photographs, and sound or video recordings. The Act does not give people access to their own personal data (information about themselves) such as their health records or credit reference file.

What is a vexatious request? ›

A request is considered vexatious, if it is likely to cause a disproportionate or unjustifiable level of distress, disruption or irritation. It is not a finding that a particular individual is vexatious and that any other request from them can automatically be refused - it is about the particular request.

What is the 100 year rule? ›

The rule to preserve confidentiality of certain records, e.g. census enumerators' returns, by prohibiting access before 100 years have passed.

What is covered by the right to information? ›

Access to information gives you the right by law to access facts and data concerning the exercise of any public authority, as well as on the use of any public funds. It often occurs through Right to Information laws (ROI).

What are the two principles of the Freedom of Information Act? ›

General right of access. The Act confers two rights on the general public: the right to be informed whether a public body holds certain information. the right to have that information communicated to it.

What is the major drawback of Freedom of Information Act 2002? ›

The main weakness of this act was that it did not acknowledge the right to information of the people. Consequently, it provided for appeals only within the government bodies. It barred the jurisdiction of the courts and did not ensure any appeal with any independent body.

› articles › freedom-informa... ›

The FOIA lays down requirements for public bodies (including the HSC) to keep and make information available on request.
Learn about the Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act request processes. For more information, visit https://www.census.gov/about/policies/foia.html. Fo...
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 allows members of the public and press to submit Freedom of Information requests, which – if certain conditions are met – re...

Does FOIA apply to CIA? ›

The CIA takes exemptions under the FOIA to protect sources and methods and national security information. CIA will neither confirm nor deny the existence of records on: CIA operational activities.

Who has access to the FBI database? ›

Federal, State, local, and tribal agencies and private entities have access to the underlying information in FIRS for noncriminal justice purposes such as employment and licensing where authorized by Federal statute, State statute pursuant to Public Law 92-544, executive order, or regulation or order of the United ...

Is the CIA covered by FOIA? ›

After some tense negotiation at the end of a hectic legislative session, the CIA received special FOIA relief from Congress in a bill signed into law by the President on October 15. The new statute, entitled the "Central Intelligence Agency Information Act," Pub.

Can you ask the FBI for your file Reddit? ›

The Privacy Act allows U.S. citizens and lawfully admitted aliens to request information on themselves or another living person. Under the Privacy Act Request section you are given the option to request the records online or via mail. I'm interested to see what the FBI thinks about me.

How long does a CIA FOIA request take? ›

The FOIA requires that federal agencies determine whether to release requested records within 10 working days, but that period may be extended for an additional 10 working days whenever any of three statutorily defined "unusual circumstances" exist.

What records could a requester obtain from the CIA through the Freedom of Information Act? ›

A FOIA request can be made for any agency record. You can also specify the format in which you wish to receive the records (for example, printed or electronic form). The FOIA does not require agencies to create new records or to conduct research, analyze data, or answer questions when responding to requests.

Can FOIA requests be anonymous? ›

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests are not confidential. Once a FOIA request is received, it becomes a public record of the USGS. If the request contains personally identifying information or the request is deemed “sensitive,” we may redact information under FOIA Exemption 6 (personal privacy).

Can FBI track your Internet history? ›

Does the FBI check Internet history? All law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, use the information gathered from computer's internet browsing history, to help them investigate and ultimately resolve criminal cases. It's a very valuable information source, and just one of the many sophisticated tools they use.

How long can the FBI investigate a person? ›

Statute of Limitations in Federal Crime Cases

So if you have still not been charged after the time set by the statute of limitations, the investigation is effectively over. For most federal crimes, the statute of limitations is five years.

Does the FBI monitor the Internet? ›

Agents can also operate undercover online and monitor private online communications, but the circumstances under which they are permitted to do so are not publicly known. Monitoring to detect threats: Even without opening an assessment or other investigation, FBI agents can monitor public social media postings.

Can the public visit the CIA? ›

The model is part of the newly renovated exhibition hall located deep inside CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. Like the National Counterintelligence and Security Center's Wall of Spies museum in Bethesda, Md., the CIA Museum isn't open to the public.

What agencies are under the umbrella of the CIA? ›

Intelligence Community Member Agencies
  • Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
  • Central Intelligence Agency.
  • National Security Agency/Central Security Service.
  • Defense Intelligence Agency.
  • National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
  • National Reconnaissance Office.
  • Department of State.
  • Department of Defense.

How do I get CIA declassified documents? ›

The documents will be available on CIA.gov and in the CIA Records Search Tool (CREST) at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. CREST currently houses over 10 million pages of declassified Agency documents.

Can FBI get your text messages? ›

The FBI document says it can access: No message content. Hash of phone number and email address, if provided by user.

What happens when you report a tip to the FBI? ›

In most cases, after tips are assessed they are routed to FBI field offices and local law enforcement agencies for follow-up.

Can the FBI ever contact you via text? ›

It's a scammer. Because government agencies won't call, email, or text you and ask for money or personal information. Only a scammer will do that.

Videos

1. Release of Ethics Documents under the FOIA, the Privacy Act, and the EIGA
(OGE Institute for Ethics in Government)
2. Filing Your First FOIA - Office Hours with MuckRock and OpenNews
(Institute for Nonprofit News)
3. FBI makes changes to "FOIA" requests
(CBS News)
4. How to make a USCIS FOIA Request Online | USCIS FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT | GREEN CARD
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5. David Opens FOIA Response from FBI
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6. Tamara Lich: Full testimony at Emergencies Act inquiry
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