Want to find out whether the FEDs have anything on you? If you have 15 minutes to spare, follow the four steps below to request your FBI file by email.
As I’ve mentioned, filing a FOIA request is simple if you know what to ask for. With many requests, that’s a very big “if,” but in this case what you’re asking for is about as clear as it gets . FBI files are one of the most commonly requested government records, and the FBI should have no trouble figuring out what you want or which of their record systems to search.
There is just one small wrinkle that makes requesting a FBI file slightly different from most other requests. Since you are requesting records about yourself, you are requesting those records under the Privacy Act, rather than Freedom of Information Act.
For all intents and purposes, the process is essentially the same for making Privacy Act requests and FOIA requests. The only difference is that with Privacy Act requests, you must include an additional form certifying your identity.
4 steps to request your FBI file
- Fill out and sign the certification of identity form.
- Type up an email asking for any and all records concerning you or your activities (example text below). You should also include any additional information that may help the FBI locate your records, such as information about any activities or incidents you’ve been involved in which may be included in your file.
- State the maximum amount you are willing to pay. My suggestion would be $20. The first 100 pages are free, so in most cases it will not cost you anything.
- Attach the signed certification of identity and send the email to firstname.lastname@example.org (the contact email listed on the FBI page) with the subject line “Privacy Act Request”.
Example email text (for step 2). Just fill in the brackets with your own information.
Dear FOIPA Officer:
This is a request under the Privacy Act.
I hereby request any and all records, documents, or communications prepared or maintained by the FBI pertaining to myself or my activities.
[ADDITIONAL INFORMATION OPTIONAL]
I am willing to pay up to [$20] for the processing of this request. Please inform me if the estimated fees will exceed this limit before processing my request.
I am seeking information for personal use and not for commercial use.
Please find attached a signed copy of Form DOJ-361 certifying my identity under penalty of perjury.
Thank you for your consideration,
[YOUR NAME / ALIASES]
[YOUR PHONE NUMBER]
That’s all there is to it.
Requesting someone else’s FBI file
If you wish to request the FBI file of a deceased individual (your grandfather, Saddam Hussein, etc), the process is the basically same. Just be sure to provide enough information for the FBI to property identify the individual (e.g. “Saddam Hussein, who served as president of Iraq from 1979 until 2003“).
If the person is not a public figure and was born less than 100 years ago, you must also include proof of death. Accepted forms include obituaries, death certificates, written media, Social Security Death Index page.
In general, you cannot request the FBI file of another living individual. The only way the FBI will honor such a request is if you have that person’s written authorization included in your request (using this form).
Unlike requests for your own FBI file, requests for another person’s FBI file (living or deceased) do fall under the Freedom of Information Act, not the Privacy Act. So if you use the example text above to make such a request, just be sure to replace anywhere it says “Privacy Act” with “Freedom of Information Act.”
To see what an FBI file looks like, the FBI Vault has the files of many deceased public figures posted online. You can also find many good examples on Muckrock: Elvis, L Ron Hubbard, Steve Jobs, Old Dirty Bastard.
What else can you request from the FBI?
To see what other information the FBI maintains, head to the FBI page and look for the Information Systems section. There you will find a list the FBI’s record systems, an index of all the information the FBI has. Here are a few examples:
- Foreign Counter Intelligence (FCI) Electronic Surveillance Audio Tapes
- Warrantless Search Consent Forms
- Asset Forfeiture Program
- Pornographic Materials Reference File
The descriptions do not read like menus, spelling out exactly what documents/files you can request from each system. But they are a helpful starting point.
You can also go to the FOIA logs section to see what information other people have requested from the FBI (what’s a FOIA log?).
If you find something you would like to ask for (documents, reports, audio files, etc), try requesting it, using some guesswork if necessary, and see what you get back.
Type up an email in plain English explaining what you want, as specifically as possible, and send it to the email address listed in the contact section of the FBI page.
More about my background
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