... because if you don't ask, you'll never know ...
Frequently Asked Questions
I'm not a U.S. citizen. Will the letters your web site generates still work for me?
Yes, with a slight modification.
If you're not a U.S. citizen, the Privacy Act doesn't apply to you, but
the Freedom of Information Act still does. Simply generate and print
the letters as usual, but cross out the words "Privacy Act" in the two
places where they are mentioned. (If you don't like crossing things out,
copy-paste the text into your favorite word processor and make the edits
there.) Our web site makes requests under both laws, but usually the
Freedom of Information Act is all you need, so you should be all set.
I'm not a U.S. citizen and I don't have a Social Security number. What should I do?
Just leave that field blank. A SSN will help the FBI more quickly find relevant records but they should be able to process your request without one.
I live outside the U.S. Do I need a U.S. mailing address?
No, you don't need a U.S. mailing address: a foreign mailing address is just fine.
Can you please send me a copy of my FBI file?
(Sigh.) No, we can't do that. We're not the FBI. We don't have
a copy of your file. This site generates letters that you can print out
and mail to various agencies, including the FBI, to request copies of your file.
Can you please email me a form that I can fill out so I can get my FBI file?
(Double sigh.) Um, no. This site generates letters that you can
print out and mail to various agencies, including the FBI, to get your own file.
We're not going to email you anything. Is this really that hard to get?
I changed my mind and no longer want my FBI (or other agency) file. Can you please cancel my request?
Remember, all this site does is generates letters that you then print
out and mail to various agencies, including the FBI, to get your own
file. As a result, we can't cancel your request. But you can. Just
wait until the agency in question sends you an acknowledgment letter from
This acknowledgment letter will contain a reference number for your
request. Then just send the agency a letter mentioning this reference
number and saying you want to cancel your request. Easy peasy.
How long will it take to get records back from the FBI
once I send in my request?
Please see our
"What Now?" page which answers this
question in detail.
What is the difference between an "FBI file" and a "rap sheet"?
An FBI file is a collection of investigative information regarding
an individual, organization, or event. This is different than an FBI
"rap sheet." In the FBI's own words, "An FBI identification record or
'rap sheet' is NOT the same as an FBI 'file'. It is simply a listing
of information taken from fingerprint cards submitted to the FBI in
connection with arrests, federal employment, naturalization, or military
service." For more information on FBI rap sheets, including how to
obtain your rap sheet, please see the FBI's web page at
Please note that our web site helps you get a copy of your FBI file,
not your FBI rap sheet.
I sent in my fingerprints to the FBI and haven't heard anything back. Can you help?
Sorry, no. See above. If you sent in your fingerprints to the FBI, you were requesting a "rap sheet", not a copy
of your FBI file, since fingerprints are not required to obtain your FBI file.
Our web site has nothing to do with rap sheets, so we can't help, sorry.
I need a copy of my FBI file for employment purposes. Can you help?
It is virtually certain that your prospective employer does not want a copy of your "FBI file" but
rather wants a copy of your "rap sheet" (see above).
Our web site has nothing to do with rap sheets, so we can't help, sorry.
(You don't get the sense that we get this question a lot, do you?)
Do you really think I have an FBI file?
We have no idea.
The only way to be sure is to ask the FBI for a copy of it, which
is exactly what this site helps you do. Maybe you get back a big thick
file, maybe you get back a one-page letter saying, "We've never
heard of you."
But if you don't ask, you'll never know, now, will you?
If I request my file, will they open a file on me if I don't have one?
We believe that this is an urban legend.
For many years people have joked that "If you request your FBI file,
the FBI will create a file on you if you don't have one."
While this is funny in a darkly humorous and self-referential
kind of way,
there is no evidence to suggest that this is true.
Requesting a copy of your own records via the Freedom of Information Act
and the Privacy Act is perfectly legal, and there is no
reason to believe that the FBI would start a file on you for such
Why are you asking me for my name, address, etc. and what do you with the data?
We are asking you the questions about your name, address, etc. simply so that we can
create a letter that you can print and send to the FBI. We do not
share this information with anyone. In fact, we don't even store it on disk -- the info is gone
from our servers as soon as you've printed your letter.
What if I don't trust you with my personal data?
No problem. Just don't fill it in! Our web site will then generate
request letters that have blanks in all the right places.
Just print the letters out and fill in the blanks by hand on your
paper copy (you do trust yourself to write down your info on your
own piece of paper, don't you?) and you're all set.
(Please note that we never ask you for your Social Security number or
date of birth: we always make you fill this out on the paper copy
of your printed letter.)
If you go this route, please print legibly, as if you actually
wanted the hard-working people at the FBI to be able to
read your handwriting and send you something.
What if I still don't trust you?
Huh. Well, we're kind of at a loss at that point, since if you leave
everything blank on our web form it's not like you're trusting us with anything!
But that's ok: if you don't want to use our site, you can go to the
FBI Privacy Act Request web page
and work directly with them. We flatter ourselves to think that our
site is a little easier to use and may be more likely to get you the
records you seek (in particular, it will help you easily
get records from FBI Field Offices), but hey, we've been there, we
understand if you don't trust us.
What's up with this "$30 fee" business? Are you guys getting rich off this?
First, no, we're not getting rich. This site is free, and you never, ever have to pay us.
Second, the FBI is allowed by law to charge reasonable fees for Freedom of Information Act requests.
The FBI gives you the first 100 pages of any request for free.
Files longer than 100 pages are charged at ten cents per page.
In practice, if the file is between 100 and 180 pages the FBI tends not to charge because it costs
them more to bill you and collect the money from you than it does to just send you the copies and be
done with it.
But because of all this, your request letter must state some maximum amount you're willing to pay -- usually $30.
If your request costs more than this, the FBI will contact you for permission before proceeding on your
request. Remember, do not send money with your request: the FBI will bill you if necessary.
Why doesn't your web site generate FOIA request letters to the National Security Agency?
We used to, but then came to realize that there was no point and it was
simply wasting everybvody's time. (Your time sending in the request,
the NSA's time in denying the request, and our time responding to your emails
Many of NSA's records enjoy special legal protection and are
effectively exempt from FOIA.
The kind of material that you would request via our site generally falls
into this category.
So, we took out the option to send a FOIA request to NSA.
For more information please see
50 USC 432b
as well as this
NSA FOIA handbook.
You should add such-and-such governemnt agency to your web form!
Of course we should. And yet, this site is run by a small team of
volunteers and we have our hands full with our day jobs and other things.
So, if you'd like to send us a suggestion for some other agency we should
add to our site, feel free, but please don't be offended if we don't
hop right on it.
Just who are you guys, anyway, and why are you doing this?
We're ordinary citizens, just like yourself. We believe in freedom of information (after all,
government information belongs to we the people, last we checked), and we thought this site was a nice
way to make that information more available.
But isn't this an invasion of privacy?
No. Remember, we're only talking here about helping you get
your own FBI file, which you're certainly entitled to.
What if I want to get somebody else's FBI file?
If the other person is deceased, then you should try
our sister web site,
Get Grandpa's FBI File,
which will help you get FBI files on deceased individuals.
If the other person is still alive, you'll need to get them
to request their own file, or get them to give you their
permission to request their file.
Don't FOIA requests have to be notarized?
No, they don't.
If you are requesting information on yourself, you just need the letters
generared by our site. No notary is required.
If you are requesting information on a deceased individual, you just
need the letters generated by our sister site,
Get Grandpa's FBI File.
Again, no notary is required.
If you are requesting information on a living individual other than
yourself, you will need to have that person complete and sign a
privacy waiver, which you can get from the FBI's web site at
(This is in lieu of a notarized request, and again, no notary is required.)
What's the secret code so I can contact you?
"Hoover", without the quotes.
You'll need this if you want to submit a question to us, in order to
prove that you read this FAQ page. :-)
Please note: if you send us a question that was already answered on this
FAQ page, we will simply ignore you and your question.
We don't mean to be rude, but we are volunteers and are busy people.
Please be considerate and make an effort to find out the answer to your
question in this FAQ document before contacting us. Thank you.
How can I contact you?
You can contact us via
this web form
We welcome your comments.
We also welcome your questions, but only if they are not already
answered on this FAQ page.
Copyright © 2007 Meme Transmission Enterprises. All rights reserved.