FOIA - Does the FBI have a file on you?

In response to the ACLU of Oregon’s investigation of FBI surveillance of activists and organizers from around Oregon, the ACLU-OR has received numerous requests for assistance from people who are curious about their own FBI records. You have a right to know if the government has investigated you, and you have a right to see the contents of your FBI file. Dr. Martin Luther King, John Lennon, Cesar Chavez—the list of targets of domestic FBI surveillance is long and distinguished. In addition to legitimate, law-enforcement activity, the FBI has, throughout its history, engaged in surveillance of people who have simply had the courage to speak out against government policies.

Your right to inspect your own FBI file is guaranteed under the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act.

Freedom of Information Act
Information about organizations, historical events, investigations, and government policies can be obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552. FOIA Requests should contain the following information:

1.    Requestor’s name.

2.    Requestor’s address/where to send results.

3.    Subject of request.

4.    Whether requestor is a representative of the news media.

5.    The maximum amount requestor is willing to pay for copying fees.

Click here for a sample FOIA Request Letter.

Privacy Act
Information about you can be obtained under the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a. The government may have private information about you, and the government can only disclose that information if you provide the proper waiver. Privacy Act requests should contain the following information:

1.    Complete name and address.

2.    Include any identifying data that could help the government identify records related to you, such as date and place of birth, former addresses, or social security number.

3.    Describe any particular incidents or events in which you were involved that you think may have come under FBI surveillance.

4.    State how much you are willing to pay for duplication costs.

5.    Sign the request and have it notarized.

Click here for a sample Privacy Act Request letter.

Where to send your request
FOIA and Privacy Act Requests from Oregon should be sent both to the FBI in Washington, D.C. and to the FBI Field Office for Oregon, which is located in Portland:

Federal Bureau of Investigation
Record Information/Dissemination Section
Service Request Unit, Room 6359
935 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20535

FBI Portland
Suite 400, Crown Plaza Building
1500 Southwest 1st Avenue
Portland, Oregon 97201-5828

The FBI FOIA website contains valuable resources on FOIA and Privacy Act requests, including descriptions of request procedures and programs for making electronic requests.

For more information about the ACLU’s investigation of domestic surveillance since 9/11, go to www.aclu.org/spyfiles.