So here's a thing I did: Asked for my FBI file.
Certain kinds of government records are available to the public, but you have to ask. The types of records required to be made public are outlined in the
Among those are certain types of investigations (the FBI handles law enforcement inside the United States; the CIA, by charter, is not allowed to operate within the US — I'm not so naive to think they might not be, but that's the way the agency was designed).
Some FOIA requests come in so often, the FBI has just gone ahead and posted them. You can just go read what the FBI has on
You can request a file on yourself or any dead person. You need some law enforcement reason or court order to allow you to request information on another living person (for example, you couldn't ask for my file).
You can do so by letter or online —
They'll do two hours of research for free; you'll tell them when you submit your request the maximum amount you're willing to spend on the request if it takes longer than that.
I sent away electronically for my file on a Wednesday afternoon, and had a letter the following Monday saying the FBI had no information on me they were required to share under the Freedom of Information Act, but they could neither confirm nor deny there could be other records or investigations on me (no kidding).
Aside: I worked at a federally chartered bank from 1997-2000, so I know there's a folder somewhere with my fingerprints. I have no idea if there's anything else in that folder.
For fun, here's the letter they sent me. Emphasis (bold) mine; incorrect usages theirs.
Dear Mr. Shear,
This is in response to your Freedom of Information/Privacy Acts (FOIPA) request.
Based on the information you provided, we conducted a search of the Central Records System. We were unable to identify main file records responsive to the FOIA. If you have additional information pertaining to the subject that you belivee was of investigative interest to the Bureau, please provide us the details and we will conduct an additional search.
By standard FBI proactice and pursuant to FOIA exemption (b)(7)(E) and Privacy Act exemption (j)(2) [5 U.S.C. §§ 552/552a (b)(7)(E), (j)(2)], this response neither confirms nor denies the existence of your subject's name on any watch lists.
For your information, Congress excluded three discrete categories of law enforcement and national security records from the requirements of the FOIA. See 5 U.S.C. § 552(c) (2006 & Supp. IV (2010). This response is limited to those records that are subject to the requirements of the FOIA. This is a standard notification that is given to all our requesters and should not be taken as an indication that excluded records do, or do not, exist.
For questions regarding our determinations, visit the www.fbi.gov/foia website under "Contact Us." The FOIPA Request Number listed above has been assigned to your request. Please use this number in all correspondence concerning your request. Your patience is appreciated.
You may file an appeal by writing to the Director, Office of Information Policy (OIP), United States Department of Justice, Suite 11050, 1425 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20530-0001, or you may submit an appeal through OIP's FOIAonline portal by creating an account on the following web site: https://foiaonline.regulations.gov/foia/action/public/home. Your appeal must be postmarked or electronically transmitted within ninety (90) days from the date of this letter in order to be considered timely. If you submit your appeal by mail, both the letter and the envelope should be clealy marked "Freedom of Information Act Appeal." Please cite the FOIPA Request Number assigned to your request so that it may be easily identified.
You may seek dispute resolution services by contacting the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) at 877-684-6448 or by emailing email@example.com. Alternatively, you may contact the FBI's FOIA Public Liaison by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. If you submit your dispute resolution correspondence by email, the subject heading should clearly state "Dispute Resolution Services." Please also cite the FOIPA Request Number assigned to your request so that it may be easily identified.
Enclosed for your information is a copy of the FBI Fact Sheet and Explanation of Exemptions.
David M. Hardy
Records Management Division
Enclosed: FBI Fact Sheet, Explanation of Exemptions.