(NEXSTAR) — It’s a common joke to refer to the FBI agent who “lives” in your phone, listening to your conversations and observing your phone usage (this is almost certainly not happening to you, as the FBI uses wiretapping “infrequently and only to combat terrorism and the most serious crimes”).
But, it is possible the FBI has a “file” on you.
Legally, you are allowed to request whatever information the FBI may have on you thanks to FOIPA: the Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act.
Under FOIPA, Americans are entitled to request records from any federal agency. That agency is, in turn, required to release the information requested, unless it meets one of nine exemptions that protect personal privacy, national security, or law enforcement.
That also entitles you to request information the FBI has on you.
To do so, you’ll need to complete a Privacy Act Request, which can be done online or by sending a letter to the FBI.
Submitting a Privacy Act Request
A Privacy Act Request is only available to citizens seeking information about themselves or another living person.
To complete the process online, you’ll need to first submit and confirm your email address.
Then, you’ll be asked to submit information about yourself (or another person) like your name and address. You will have to confirm it is you, if you’re requesting information about yourself — providing false information could result in criminal penalties, the FBI warns.
Before submitting the eFOIPA, you will have to state whether you will pay for the search and results the FBI produces. Once you’ve completed the above sections, you will have to submit your request and wait.
If you opt to complete a paper form and letter to the FBI, you’ll complete a similar set of steps.
What you’ll receive
After a wait (which was about 10 days for us), you’ll receive a response via the mail, regardless of how you submitted the request.
If you are an average person with no record or interaction with the FBI, you may be a bit disappointed by your response: “…We were unable to identify records subject to the FOIPA that are responsive to your request. Therefore, your request is being closed.”
That response may include additional information, like whether relevant records “were destroyed” or transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration (there’s a separate FOIPA request for those documents). But you likely will not receive a multi-page report about you.
An empty FOIPA request doesn’t necessarily mean there are no records of you.
The FBI notes there are a number of exemptions that keep some records from being released. Among those are “records of intelligence sources, methods, or activities,” as well as those that are considered law enforcement and national security records. The agency also cannot confirm nor deny whether an individual is on a watch list or in the Witness Security Program, or “the existence of confidential informant records.”
Regarding all three options, the FBI says, “This is a standard response and should not be read to indicate that such records do or do not exist.”
You’ll also likely receive information on how to request an Identity History Summary Check, which is “not the same as material in an investigative ‘FBI file.’” Instead, this includes “information taken from fingerprint cards and documents submitted to the FBI in connection with arrests, federal employment, naturalization, or military service.” There is a service fee associated with these requests.
Ultimately, if you’re concerned the FBI has a file on you, there probably isn’t. But, you are entitled to request the information they do have.
There are many public figures that you can, however, find information on in The Vault maintained by the FBI. It contains thousands of documents previously released to the public via FOIA requests. That includes records on serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, material related to investigations into former President Donald Trump, documents on the infamous plane hijacker D.B. Cooper, and even astronaut Neil Armstrong.