The FBI recently began open beta testing of eFOIA, a system that puts Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests into a medium more familiar to an ever-increasing segment of the population. This new system allows the public to make online FOIA requests for FBI records and receive the results from a website where they have immediate access to view and download the released information.
Previously, FOIA requests have only been made through regular mail, fax, or e-mail, and all responsive material was sent to the requester through regular mail either in paper or disc format. “The eFOIA system,” says David Hardy, chief of the FBI’s Record/Information Dissemination Section, “is for a new generation that’s not paper-based.” Hardy also notes that the new process should increase FBI efficiency and decrease administrative costs.
The eFOIA system continues in an open beta format to optimize the process for requesters. The Bureau encourages requesters to try eFOIA and to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or difficulties encountered while using it. In several months, the FBI plans to move eFOIA into full production mode.
A quick note: If you want to make what’s called a “first party” request asking for information about yourself or another living person—which falls under the U.S. Privacy Act (PA)—you will need to mail, fax, or e-mail the U.S. Department of Justice’s Certification of Identity Form DOJ-361, plus any additional information that may help in locating the records you’re looking for, to the FBI.
Submissions to the FBI’s overall FOIA/PA program continue to trend upward, according to Hardy. “Requests have increased over the past decade by as much as a third,” he said. “Over the past year, we’ve received approximately 18,500 requests and, thanks to a skilled workforce and increasing automation, we were able to review for release 1.1 million pages.”
And while many of the requests that come in are from the media, authors, academia, organizations, and the like, Hardy noted that 40 percent of FOIA/PA requests come from individuals looking for records on themselves.
The original purpose of the decades-old Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act was to promote openness in government. “Our belief in the concept of government transparency and the public’s right to access certain records held by government agencies is what continues to drive us to this day,” said Hardy, “and eFOIA represents another step by the FBI to enhance that access.”