Sarah Abdurrahman is a producer for On the Media
Go FOIA Yourself!
Friday, March 02, 2012 - 01:22 PM
On this week’s show, we have a few stories exploring the subject of transparency. Inspired by the story of a woman who discovered the FBI had a 436-page report on her after sending in a bunch of personal FOIA requests, I decided to make the government get transparent with me as well.
We talk a great deal about FOIA—the Freedom of Information Act—on our program, but until this week, I had never considered doing a FOIA request on myself. In hindsight, it seems so obvious! It’s like sending out your DNA to learn about your genealogy—except instead of finding out your family origins, you get to learn what information the government is collecting about you. Sounds fun, right?
Fun, and surprisingly easy. To submit FOIA requests about yourself, all you have to do is write a letter to the specific agency whose files you want. You don’t even have to get it notarized, as long as you declare “under penalty of perjury” that you are who you say are. To create my letters, I used the website getmyfbifile.com, which allows you to input your information and select which agencies to generate letters for. If you aren’t comfortable putting in your personal information, you can also just print the letters with blank spaces for you to write in the details. And if you don’t want to do that, you can go to the different government agency websites and find detailed instructions on how to submit a FOIA request.
On the program this week, I explain to Bob why I think it is likely that the government has a file on me. You can listen to that segment here.
I printed out nearly a dozen letters, to local FBI offices, FBI headquarters, the CIA, Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security. Bob compared it to sending out cereal box labels for a toy. I'm pretty excited to find out what my mystery prize is.
It could take months before I get any responses to my letters, but we will keep you updated when I do. In the meantime, why don't you go FOIA yourself too? And let us know about it if you do!
And on the theme of transparency…here at OTM we are going to be more transparent with all of you by posting short videos of what goes on behind the scenes (behind the microphone?) at our show. To start it off, here I am talking to fellow producer Alex Goldman about my FOIAs: