Question from Sarah, Does a FOIA Request Reveal Uncharged Criminal Investigations?
Answer from AI:
When you submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for information on a person, you may wonder what type of information you will receive, especially if that person was investigated for a crime but not charged. Here’s what you need to know about the scope of FOIA and its limitations regarding criminal investigations.
The Freedom of Information Act is a law that gives you the right to access information from the federal government. It is often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government. Under FOIA, agencies must disclose any information that is requested—unless that information is protected from public disclosure by one of nine exemptions or by one of three special law enforcement record exclusions.
FOIA and FBI Criminal Investigation Records
When it comes to FBI records, FOIA does allow for the release of certain types of information, including past criminal investigations. However, there are important caveats:
- Exemptions: The FBI may withhold information if it falls under one of the exemptions. For example, if releasing the information could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings, or if it would invade another individual’s personal privacy, the FBI might not release the records.
- Privacy Concerns: If the person you are inquiring about was not charged with a crime, the FBI might invoke privacy exemptions. This is because the disclosure of information about an individual who has not been charged could be seen as an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.
- Exclusions: There are also instances where the existence of the records themselves is protected from disclosure under FOIA’s law enforcement exclusions. This means that if the records pertain to ongoing investigations, informants, or national security issues, they may not be acknowledged or released.
How to Request FBI Records
If you decide to file a FOIA request for FBI records, here are the typical steps you might take:
- Identify the records you are seeking as specifically as possible to increase the chances of locating them.
- Submit your request online or by mail to the FBI’s Record/Information Dissemination Section (RIDS).
- Wait for the FBI to process your request. This can take time, depending on the complexity of your request and the backlog of requests the FBI has at the time.
When to Seek Legal Advice
If you are seeking information for legal purposes or if you encounter difficulties in obtaining records from the FBI, it may be beneficial to consult with a legal professional. An attorney can help you understand the nuances of FOIA, assist with crafting a more effective request, and provide advice on how to appeal a denial of information.
For more information on FOIA and how to submit a request, you can visit the official FBI FOIPA page.
Remember, while FOIA is a powerful tool for obtaining information, it has its limitations, and the release of information is not guaranteed, especially when it comes to sensitive law enforcement records and personal privacy concerns.