Freedom of Information/Privacy Act

Learn all about FBI records—including how to access previously released records and how to request records in accordance with the Freedom of Information (FOIA) and Privacy Acts, collectively referred to as FOIPA. Please review the information below to assist you with understanding these records and the operations of the FBI.

Understanding FBI Records 

The FBI—along with every other government agency—creates and obtains records as it carries out its day to day operations. In the Bureau, these records generally include investigative files, personnel files, and policy guides. A majority of these documents are indexed in our Central Records System (CRS)—an electronic index that allows Bureau personnel to query requested information. While the CRS contains most of the FBI's records, some of our earliest records were not indexed, and some records have been transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration

Robots deposit and retrieve files at Central Records Complex in Winchester, Virginia. The $135 million complex opened in 2020  to house FBI files.

Obtaining FBI Records 

Records Available Now

A large number of FBI records are available for public review on the FBI's electronic FOIA Library (The Vault).

  • Types of records that the FBI provides electronically on The Vault include, but are not limited to:
  • Records on The Vault are organized alphabetically by name or topic. Users may also locate records by browsing various categories such as civil rights, counterterrorism, popular culture, unusual phenomenon, and violent crime.
  • If you would rather receive a physical copy of records that are currently available on The Vault, you may submit a FOIA request by fax, standard mail, or through eFOIPA, the FBI's electronic FOIPA portal. Please note that physical copies of these records will be of the same quality as those available on The Vault.

Records Available by Request

To receive records that are not already available on The Vault, you may submit an FOIPA request by fax, standard mail, or through eFOIPA, the FBI's recently deployed electronic FOIPA portal. The eFOIPA system allows requesters to electronically submit and receive correspondence regarding their FOIPA requests. 

For complete information on when and how to submit an FOIPA request, please review Requesting FBI Records.

To learn what information you will receive, how long it takes, and how to file an appeal, please review What Happens After Making a Request.

If you have questions about preparing or submitting requests, you may e-mail foipaquestions@fbi.gov or call our FOIA Requester Service at Center (540) 868-1535 to hear helpful recorded information.

The Record/Information Dissemination Section (RIDS) in the FBI Information Management Division is responsible for the release of records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Privacy Act.

What Happens After Making a Request 

How Long it Takes to Receive Information

  • Requests are handled in the order in which they are received according to a multi-track system. Please remember that the FBI receives a large number of requests on a daily basis.
  • Requests are divided into three different processing tracks based on the number of pages responsive to the request. A request is routed through a small processing track if it encompasses 50 pages or less, a medium processing track if it encompasses 51 to 950 pages, or a large processing track if it encompasses 951 pages or more. Requests that encompass a high volume of responsive records will take a longer time to process than requests that encompass a small volume of responsive records.
  • If your request encompasses more than 950 responsive pages, an FBI representative will contact you in an effort to reduce the fees and the processing time associated with your request. 
  • To check the status of an existing request, requesters are encouraged to use the FBI’s FOIPA online status tool at https://vault.fbi.gov/fdps-1/@@search-fdps. This tool can also be found on the FOIPA Status tab at the top of this page. Status updates are performed on a weekly basis. The status of a closed request will be available for six months following the date of closure.
  • If you have questions regarding any FBI FOIPA-related matters, please contact us at foipaquestions@fbi.gov, or contact our Public Information Office at (540) 868-4593. If you have already submitted a request, please be prepared to provide your FOIPA request number so that we may better assist you.
    • Questions about Identity History Summary Checks: The public information officer cannot answer questions about Identity History Summary Checks (commonly called rap sheets, background checks, police certificates, or criminal arrest records). All requests or questions related to Identity History Summary Checks should be directed to the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division in Clarksburg, West Virginia at (304) 625-2000.
    • Questions about Name Check Requests: The public information officer cannot answer questions about Name Check requests. Information regarding Name Check requests can be found on the FBI’s National Name Check Program webpage. Please note that the National Name Check Program only accepts requests submitted by other federal agencies; requests received from the general public will not be accepted.

What You Will Receive After FBI Processing

After records responsive to your request have been processed, you will receive the following items:

  • Releasable documents
  • An FOIPA release letter citing the number of pages reviewed, released, and any exemptions (Title 5, U.S. Code, Section 552/552a) that were applied during the processing of your request. Please see the Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act exemptions for more information. If there were any duplication and/or processing fees associated with your request, costs and payment instructions will be provided to you in the letter.

Appeals

If you are not satisfied with the results of your request, you may file an appeal by writing to the Director of the Office of Information Policy (OIP/DOJ) at the following address:

U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Information Policy 
441 G Street NW, Sixth Floor
Washington, D.C. 20001

In lieu of mailing your appeal, you may submit an appeal electronically after creating an account on OIP’s FOIA online portal.

If you submitted your request before July 1, 2016, your appeal to OIP must be postmarked or electronically transmitted within 60 days from the date of your letter in order to be considered timely. If you submitted your request after July 1, 2016, your appeal to OIP must be postmarked or electronically transmitted within 90 days from the date of your letter in order to be considered timely. If you are submitting your appeal through standard mail, both the letter and envelope should be clearly marked “Freedom of Information Act Appeal.” Please cite your FOIPA request number so that it may be easily identified.

Note: Please do not send your appeal request directly to the FBI. Appeal requests sent directly to the FBI will not be reviewed.

Prior to submitting an appeal to OIP, you have the option to seek dispute resolution services by contacting the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) at (877) 684-6448, or by emailing ogis@nara.gov. Alternatively, you may contact the FBI’s FOIPA public liaison by emailing foipaquestions@fbi.gov. If you submit your dispute resolution correspondence by email, the subject heading should clearly state “Dispute Resolution Services.” Please also cite your FOIPA request number so that it may be easily identified.

Prepublication Review

FBI Policy on the Disclosure of Information by Current or Former Personnel 

All current and former personnel* seeking to disclose FBI information outside of their official duties must submit the material to prepublication review. This requirement is set out in the FBI Prepublication Review Policy Guide and Nondisclosure Agreements signed upon entering service.

The Prepublication Review Office's (PRO) mission is to engage with current and former personnel to ensure any products created for public release are free from prohibited disclosures that could harm FBI personnel, assets, and operations. 

What Qualifies for Prepublication Review?

Any proposed public disclosure by current and former FBI personnel (oral, written, or electronic) created in their personal capacity, outside of official duty requirements, must be submitted. Prepublication review is required prior to disclosures of drafts, initial manuscripts, and similar preliminary works to anyone including non-FBI attorneys, ghost writers, co-authors, and publishers. These products can include:

  • Books (fiction or nonfiction)
  • Newspaper and magazine articles or opinion pieces
  • Academic publications
  • Resumes, bios, and cover letters
  • Content appearing on websites, blogs, and social media
  • Speeches and public appearances
  • Podcasts
  • Scripts for any film, television, video, or theater project 

The PRO will conduct a thorough review to assess whether the proposed publication includes prohibited information. We will 
advise the requester of any concerns and then work with the requester to resolve them. Reviews can take 30 business days or longer, depending on material complexity and length.

How to Make a Request

  • Submit the full text at least 30 working days in advance of the proposed disclosure.
  • Provide your full name, title, and date range of service.
  • Attach full draft, to include tables of contents, indexes, images, or any other information you intend to include in the final publication.
    Pages and lines of the draft should be numbered (for reference) and the draft should be unlocked and in a common document type (.doc, .pdf, etc.).
  • For larger bodies of work, describe the product, characters, FBI relevance, and if there are any other federal government agencies’ information within your work.
  • Provide resources or citations.

Submit materials by email to: fbiprepub@fbi.gov

Or mail to:
Prepublication Review Office
Information Management Division

200 Constitution Drive
Winchester, VA 22602-4842

Questions?

Phone: 540-678-7793
Email: fbiprepub@fbi.gov

*FBI Personnel are defined as “individuals employed by, detailed, or assigned to the FBI, including task force officers, members, and participants; members of the armed forces; experts and consultants to the FBI; industrial and commercial contractors, licensees, certificate holders, or grantees of the FBI, including all subcontractors; personal service contractors of the FBI; and any other category or person who acts for or on behalf of the FBI, as determined by the FBI Director.” [FBI Prepublication Review Policy Guide (1065PG)]