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 http://www.foia.cia.gov/sample_request_letter.asp.
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
Communications Center (FOI/PA)
245 Murray Lane
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
ATTN: DAN-1A (FOIA)
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.