... because if you don't ask, you'll never know ...
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. Got it?
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 your request. 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 http://www.fbi.gov/hq/cjisd/fprequest.htm. 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 a request.
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 about it.) 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 http://foia.fbi.gov/waiver.htm. (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.
Copyright © 2007 Meme Transmission Enterprises. All rights reserved.