This answer is written by AI. The information provided in this response is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be considered as legal advice. Do not rely solely on the information provided in this response for any legal decisions. Consult with a qualified legal professional before making any decisions.

Can the FBI Deny the Existence of a Closed File in a FOIA Request?

Question from Prat, Can the FBI Deny the Existence of a Closed File in a FOIA Request?

Answer from AI:

When it comes to accessing federal records, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a crucial tool for the public. However, there are specific instances where an agency like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) can deny the existence of records, including closed files, under certain conditions. One such condition involves FOIA Exclusion (c)(1), which is often a point of confusion and interest.

Understanding FOIA Exclusion (c)(1)

FOIA Exclusion (c)(1) is one of three special exclusions under the FOIA that allows federal agencies to “treat the records as not subject to the requirements of this section.” In simpler terms, it permits an agency to deny the existence of records if their disclosure could harm an interest protected by an exemption. Specifically, Exclusion (c)(1) applies when the subject of a request is involved in or related to an ongoing investigation that could be compromised by acknowledging the existence of records.

Key Points of Exclusion (c)(1):

  • It is applicable only when the existence of the records themselves would tip off the subject of an investigation.
  • It is often used in conjunction with FOIA Exemption 7(A), which protects from disclosure records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes that could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings.
  • The use of this exclusion is rare and subject to strict oversight.

Application to Closed Files

The question of whether the FBI can use Exclusion (c)(1) to deny the existence of a closed file in a FOIA request is nuanced. Generally, the rationale for applying Exclusion (c)(1) is more aligned with ongoing investigations. Once a case is closed, the justification for denying the existence of records based on the need to avoid tipping off a subject diminishes. However, there could be circumstances where acknowledging the existence of even closed files could harm national security, reveal sensitive operational details, or compromise the identities of confidential sources.

What You Can Do

If you believe your FOIA request has been improperly denied or that an exclusion has been wrongly applied, you have several options:

  1. Appeal: You can file an administrative appeal with the agency. The appeal process allows you to challenge the agency’s decision.
  2. Seek Legal Advice: Consulting with a legal professional who specializes in FOIA law can provide you with guidance tailored to your specific situation.
  3. FOIA Ombudsman: The Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) acts as a mediator between FOIA requesters and federal agencies and can offer assistance.


While the FBI can use FOIA Exclusion (c)(1) under certain conditions, its application to deny the existence of closed files is less straightforward and depends on the specifics of the case. It’s important to remember that FOIA exclusions and exemptions are subject to legal interpretation and can vary by case. If you encounter difficulties with your FOIA request or believe an exclusion has been improperly applied, consider seeking legal advice or assistance from OGIS.

For more detailed information on FOIA and its exclusions, you can visit the official FOIA website. Remember, this information is not legal advice, and for specific legal concerns, it’s best to consult with a legal professional.

Note: The legal landscape is always evolving, and while this information is accurate as of the last update, it’s important to verify the current state of the law regarding FOIA requests and exclusions.

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