Archive for the Privacy Category

How to find out what the government knows about you

Posted in Privacy with tags , , , , , on June 19, 2013 by Bradley Hall

I wrote this article several years ago for 2600: The Hacker Quarterly. With the NSA spying on everyone being in the news recently, I figured I would revive this old guide and post it to the Internet for all to see. I also know that I’m effectively outing myself as the author of this piece as it appeared in 2600. No big deal. My nom de Hacker is the same as the name I use on every other website. I’m sure the NSA figured that out when they came across my Facebook page a few years ago.

Onward, to the article…

First off, this article assumes that you are a dude or dudette living in the United States who wants to know what the US Government knows about you. This is actually a pretty easy endeavor, it is not, however, quick. It involves snail mail and is guaranteed to take at least three months to receive any results.

Why you want to know what the government knows about you is your own business. However, if you know that you have done something that could get you arrested if they knew where you are, you might not want to proceed. Also, this is not a primer on how to get your brother’s records, or your mother’s, or your great-grandfather’s, who you believe worked for Al Capone.

There’s also that rumor that if you ask the FBI to send you a copy of your file and they find you don’t have one, they start one on you right then because if you’re asking for a copy of your file, you must be doing something that necessitates them having a file on you. It’s like the one where if you buy a copy of 2600 the ever-present “they” start tracking you. I’m starting to wonder what happens when you write for 2600.

First, who do you think has a file on you? I’m talking about those (typically) three-letter-organizations, the FBI, NSA, CIA, DHS, etc. Since it’s so easy to write one letter and change it slightly for each organization, why not send a letter to all of them. Remember, the price of a stamp is currently 44 cents. The price is set to go up to 46 cents in January.

There are two Acts at work here. First there is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), was signed into law by President Johnson in 1966. It is a law that promotes openness in government and allows members of the public to request documents from the various governmental entities. The second Act is the Privacy Act of 1974. This Act governs the collection, maintenance, use, and dissemination of personally identifiable information about individuals that is maintained in systems of records by federal agencies. The Privacy Act also prohibits the disclosure of information from a system of records without the written consent of the subject individual.

In order to obtain any documents about yourself, you have to invoke both Acts in a letter to each organization you wish to contact about your records.

In your letter to each organization, it would help to follow proper letter writing protocols. That way whoever receives your letter will have an easier time reading it and figuring out what you want. The scope of this article does not include teaching you how to write a letter. If you would like a refresher course on how to write a letter, then type “proper letter writing format” into your search engine of choice. However, the CIA has a great sample FOIA/PA letter online at

Now that you are ready to write your letter, it should contain the following information: That you are seeking any records that organization has about you, make sure to explain that you are invoking both FOIA and the Privacy Act, your full name, any alias you may have used (if your name is William, but people call you Bill, this would fit, as would any screen name or “hacker name” you use or have used), date of birth, where you were born, social security number, phone number, current address, a fee you are willing to pay for this service (I recommend $25), note, that you do not have to send this money in unless they ask for it, and if they do ask for it, it means they must have quite a bit of files to send you. I have requested files from FOIA from several government organizations and none of them have ever charged me for the files they sent, though they did inform me that more information is available, at a price.

The Secret Service’s FOIA page states that you need to sign you letter and have a notary witness it or affix the following to your letter: “I declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct. Executed on [date].” You should also include a copy of your drivers license or other identification so that they can compare your actual identification to the information you have provided (and your signature on your license to the signature on your letter).

Now that your letter is written, below are the addresses of the various governmental agencies you may want to try contacting. I am only giving the address to the main FBI location, not the branch offices. You may want to check the FBI’s website to find out the nearest branch office to you and appeal to them as well. These are just a few of the organizations you can contact about records. If you were ever in the military there is a slew of resources online available to help you figure out where to send your inquiry as to your military records.

Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)

Freedom of Information Operations Unit (SARO)
Drug Enforcement Administration
700 Army Navy Drive
Arlington, VA 22202

Secret Service

Communications Center (FOI/PA)
245 Murray Lane
Building T-5
Washington, D.C. 20223

Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

The Privacy Office
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
245 Murray Drive SW
Washington, D.C. 20528-0655

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)

Federal Bureau of Investigation
Attn: FOI/PA Request
Record/Information Dissemination Section
170 Marcel Drive
Winchester, VA 22602-4843

National Security Agency

National Security Agency
Attn: FOIA/PA Office (DJP4)
9800 Savage Road, Suite 6248
Ft. George G. Meade, MD 20755-6248

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

Information and Privacy Coordinator
Central Intelligence Agency
Washington, D.C. 20505


Office of the General Counsel
INTERPOL-U.S. National Central Bureau
Department of Justice
Washington, D.C. 20530-0001

Defense Intelligence Agency

Defense Intelligence Agency
200 MacDill Blvd
Washington, DC 20340-5100

Odds are that you should only try contacting agencies you believe would have information on you. If you’ve never robbed a bank or tried to kill a President, you might not want to bother the Secret Service. But, even if you haven’t, why send them a letter anyway, you never know what you’ll find.


The NSA’s Turn

Posted in Commentary, Government, Privacy on August 23, 2010 by Bradley Hall

A few weeks ago I sent out a few letters under the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act to see if several United States “three letter agencies” had any information on me. So far, the FBI was the first to reply.

Today, I got the National Security Agency’s reply. I think it scares me the most.

Right off, the NSA says “a search of our most comprehensive filing systems which include applicant, personnel, security, medical, and training was conducted pursuant to the Privacy Act. Our records reflect that you have never been affiliated with this Agency: thus, no records were located in a search of those filing systems.

Further in the letter is this: “The classified nature of the National Security Agency’s efforts prevents us from either confirming or denying the existence of intelligence records responsive to your request.”

Wow… denied. I get the feeling they deny every request for data, but geez man, that wording makes it seem like they do have information on me.

The first results of that FOIA fest

Posted in Commentary, Government, Privacy on August 11, 2010 by Bradley Hall

Today when I checked the mail, I received the first bits from my FOIA records fest I mentioned in a previous post.

Apparently the people at need to update their files as the address they gave me for my local FBI office is no more. The FBI apparently moved to another location.

Even though the letter I sent now has a yellow sticker on it that says where they moved to, the USPS did not try to deliver it there. They just returned it to sender.

If you want to duplicate this FOIA record gathering expedition, you might want to double check every address.

File a file to get a file

Posted in Commentary, Government, Privacy on August 5, 2010 by Bradley Hall

Last week I posted quite a few posts that I joked might put me on a government watch list. Now, I seek to find out if I have ever been on any watch lists. If I wasn’t before, I’m surely going to be now.

I found the website “Get My FBI File” (link below). I input my information, printed it off, added the information I had to write in, included a copy of my ID and mailed it off today. This site is not related the US Government or any of the below named organizations.

I sent a letter to the CIA, NSA, FBI (local office), and FBI (national office). I wanted to send one to the Department of Homeland Security, but that wasn’t one of the places mentioned on the site I used.

What happens now? Well, if it turns out I am a wanted individual, I will most likely be apprehended in a spectacular manner. The FBI Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) page says that they try to handle FOIA requests as soon as possible.

After a period of time, I’m figuring three months or so, I’ll receive what they call a “OPCA16” document.

In the past I have applied to all three organizations for a job, so at the very least I will most likely receive information regarding my applications.

The Freedom of Information Act is an act that fosters openness in Government and in other governmental organizations. It is incredibly useful for finding information.

This post only marks the third time I have used the Freedom of Information Act to seek information.

Regardless of what information I obtain from this exercise, I will post the results here.

Get my FBI file site

Facebook Torrent Explosion

Posted in Commentary, Privacy on July 29, 2010 by Bradley Hall

By now everyone has most likely heard all about the recent news where a Pirate Bay user created some kind of bots that scoured Facebook looking for profiles that weren’t privacy blocked and was able to amass a list of 100 million users.

He then posted this as a Torrent file on The Pirate Bay for anyone to download.

I downloaded the file and I would LOVE to be able to tell you what is in it, but none of the files will open on my computer. Oh sure I can open the .rar files. Inside the .rar files are extremely large .txt files. Seriously large.

How does a 10GB .txt document sound to you? It’s FLIPPING HUGE!

By comparison, my .doc of Bram Stoker’s Dracula is 1.67MB. Let’s do this in a way that’s easily comparable:

10000MB – size of ONE of the unrared folders in the Facebook dump.
1.67MB – size of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

My system clogs when it tries to open any of these files (except for Dracula, Dracula’s cool).

Granted, my computer is not the most up to date. My computer will top out at a maximum of 1GB of RAM. I’m pretty sure that’s one of the main system bottlenecks preventing me from utilizing this information.

I currently have the smallest .txt file found in the dump trying to load, it’s only 80MB.

If you want to download the file yourself, I have linked it below. You need a Torrent program to download it as well was Winrar. If either of these terms befuddle you, I would not recommend trying to download this file.

You have been warned. Do not cry to me if something goes wrong.


Just as I clicked for this post to go live, that file opened in Notepad. I have pasted a picture of it below so you can see what it looks like. I will try to do the others as well. Since these files unrar to be so large, I will be deleting them as I examine them. I will, however, keep the original .rar file, as it’s only just under 3GB. Text files compress very well.

The file this came from was the file called facebook-lastname-withcount

Pirate Bay link for this file

How I became the leader of a political party

Posted in Commentary, Economy, Government, Intellectual Property, Piracy, Privacy on April 5, 2010 by Bradley Hall

Short version: I randomly walked into the meeting and by the time I walked out I was the top guy of a political party boasting at least 2,000 members in the United States.

Long version:

Where to begin? Most would say “The Beginning,” and I would say, rock on. The beginning for this story starts about a year ago. That was when I first heard of the United States Pirate Party. I was sympathetic with their aims, so I contacted the leader and was added to the “Alpha Users” mailing list. The reason behind this was because I wanted to possibly write about the Party one day in the future. The mailing list was the best way to keep up with new happenings in the Party.

Right off, most people are turned off by the term “pirate party” as though this group wants nothing more than to make it legal to download Lady Gaga songs illegally from the Internet. This is far from the truth. I liken the whole “pirate party” thing to more like pirate radio, but trying to change things from the inside, not on boats broadcasting from who knows where.

You can check out the USPP’s platforms on this webpage:
USPP Platforms

I digress.

In late December 2009, I received an email from the list saying there was an emergency meeting and that all were invited. I had nothing better to do, so I clicked the link to the chat room and joined.

The fulltext of that meeting can be found Here. The reason for the meeting was because the then-current administrator of the party was being lax in his duties and had been missing in action for a month and a half. This meeting was to call a vote for a third vote of no confidence (VoNC) and as set forth in the USPP Constitution, once someone had three VoNC’s, they were removed from office. The only stipulation was that on that same night someone had to be voted into that office.

No one wanted to do it.

After a few minutes, I said I would. A vote was cast and I was instituted as the Administrator (Pro Tempore). I was to also head up the emergency election in late January, I believe the date was January 26th. I chose not to run for re-election.

With this new post, I found myself as the only officer of the USPP. Every other officer post was vacant (well, Records Officer still had someone in it, but she was soon removed as well). My time as the Admin (Pro Tem) was mostly spent answering questions people had about the party and how they could help. I also worked to keep the party united during this time of change.

Everyone involved in one aspect or another of the Party was well informed and I really enjoyed working with every one of them.

After the election and the new Admin took over, I kind of felt like I’d lost something. There was no way I could tell the new admin that I want to be admin again, so I did the next best thing. In the February election, I ran for, and won, the Records Officer position.

When I first thought about writing a post about this, it was way more epic.

USPP Website

Comcast Buys NBC?

Posted in Commentary, Government, Intellectual Property, Privacy with tags , , , on December 3, 2009 by Bradley Hall

I was met with the news that Comcast bought NBC when I arrived home from school. It always amazes me how the halls of education can be shielded from the “important facts of the day” but I digress.

If this merger would be allowed to happen it would result in fewer choices, higher prices, and less access.

I implore you to check out FreePress’s webpage in regards to this matter.

Free Press link.