The Department of Justice posts a great deal of information on its website so before making a request you might want to look there first. You may find that the information you are interested in is already posted. Our FOIA Library also has links to the websites of the Department’s forty components to make finding records easier.
You should also keep in mind that each federal agency handles or processes its own records in response to FOIA requests. There is no central office in the government that processes FOIA requests for all federal departments and agencies. Therefore, before sending a request to the Department of Justice you should determine whether DOJ is likely to have the records you are seeking. You can also view the descriptions of the types of records that are maintained by each Department of Justice component. Finally, you can also read the official FOIA regulations of the Department of Justice.
Where Should I Send My Request?
DOJ is organized into a number of bureaus, divisions, offices, and boards, which are referred to as "components." Within DOJ, each component processes its own records in response to FOIA requests. Therefore, your request will receive the quickest possible response if it is addressed directly to the component that you believe has the records you are seeking. If you know where you want to submit your request, you can do so using the National FOIA Portal on FOIA.gov. If you are unsure of which component would have the records you are seeking, you can read about each component and the types of records they maintain. Once you decide which component is likely to have the records you seek, you can view the list of FOIA contacts to get the address for that component's FOIA office.
If you believe that DOJ maintains the records you are seeking, but you are uncertain about which component has the records, you may send your request to the Department’s Mail Referral Unit at:
FOIA/PA Mail Referral Unit
Department of Justice
Washington, DC 20530-0001
Phone: (202) 616-3837
Personnel in the Mail Referral Unit will then forward your request to the DOJ component they determine is most likely to maintain the records you are seeking.
What can I request?
A FOIA request can be made for any agency record. You can also specify the format in which you wish to receive the records. You should be aware that the FOIA does not require agencies to do research for you, to analyze data, to answer written questions, or to create records in response to a request.
Is There a Special Form I Have to Use to Make a FOIA Request?
There is not a specific form that must be used to make a request. The request simply must be in writing, must reasonably describe the records you seek, and must also provide any other specific information that the component requires. All DOJ components now accept FOIA requests submitted electronically, either by web form, email, and/or facsimile. You can see the list of FOIA Contacts for each component, or view the details on the methods of making a request and any specific requirements for seeking certain records from each component.
In making your request you should be as specific as possible when describing the records you are seeking. It is not necessary for you to provide the name or title of a requested record, but the more specific you are about the records or types of records that you seek, the more likely it will be that the DOJ component will be able to locate those records.
What are the requirements to get records on myself?
If you are seeking records on yourself, you will be required to verify your identity. This verification is required in order to protect your privacy and to ensure that private information about you is not disclosed inappropriately to someone else. Whenever you request information about yourself you will be asked to provide either a notarized statement or a statement signed under penalty of perjury stating that you are the person who you say you are. You may fulfill this requirement by completing and signing Form DOJ-361. Alternatively, you may provide your full name, current address, and date and place of birth and either (1) have your signature on your request letter witnessed by a notary, or (2) include the following statement immediately above the signature on your request letter: "I declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct. Executed on [date]." If you request information about yourself and do not follow one of these procedures, your request cannot be processed.
What about requirements for obtaining records on someone else?
If you request records relating to another person, and disclosure of the records could invade that person's privacy, they ordinarily will not be disclosed to you. For example, if you seek information that would show that someone else (including your spouse or another member of your immediate family) has ever been the subject of a criminal investigation or was even mentioned in a criminal file and you do not provide the subject's consent or proof of their death, in almost all cases DOJ will respond by stating that it will "neither confirm nor deny" the existence of responsive law enforcement records. Law enforcement information about a living person is released without that person's consent only when no personal privacy interest would be invaded by disclosing the information, such as when the information is already public or required to be made public, or in cases where the individual's privacy interest is outweighed by a strong public interest in disclosure. You may receive greater access by submitting either a notarized authorization signed by that individual or a declaration made in compliance with the requirements set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 1746 by that individual authorizing disclosure of the records to you, or by submitting proof that the individual is deceased. Each component can require you to supply additional information if necessary to verify that a particular individual has consented to disclosure.
What happens after I submit my request to a DOJ component?
When a DOJ component receives your FOIA request, it ordinarily will send you a letter acknowledging the request and assigning it a tracking number. If the component requires additional information from you so that it can begin processing your request, it will contact you. You should always feel free to contact the component if you have any question about your request. The component’s FOIA contact or its FOIA Public Liaison are available to explain the FOIA process to you, provide information about the status of your request, and to otherwise assist you in understanding how your request is being handled.
How long will it take before I get a response?
The time it takes to respond to each request varies depending on the complexity of the request itself and the backlog of requests already pending at the component. In some circumstances the component will be able to respond to the request within the standard time limit established by the FOIA, which is twenty working days, or approximately one month. In other instances there might be a longer period of time needed before the request can be handled. For example, some DOJ components, such as the FBI and DEA, receive thousands of requests each year. Many of these requests require a line-by-line review of hundreds or even thousands of pages of documents. Although these components make every effort to respond to FOIA requests as quickly as possible, in some cases they simply cannot do so within the twenty-day time period specified in the FOIA. Generally, if you make a request for a small volume of material, the component will be able to process the request more quickly as a “simple” request.
When a component needs an extension of time to respond to your request the component will notify you in writing and offer you the opportunity to modify or limit the scope of your request. Alternatively, you may agree to a different timetable for the processing of your request. The component's FOIA Public Liaison can assist you with this.
Can my request be processed faster?
Under certain conditions you may be entitled to have your request processed on an expedited basis. At the Department of Justice, there are four specific situations where a request will be expedited, which means that it is handled as soon as practicable.
First, a request will be expedited if the lack of expedited treatment could reasonably be expected to pose a threat to someone's life or physical safety.
Second, a request will be expedited if the information requested is urgently needed to inform the public concerning some actual or alleged federal government activity, and if it is made by a person primarily engaged in disseminating information to the public.
Third, if an individual will suffer the loss of substantial due process rights, his or her request will be expedited. A request will not normally be expedited merely because the requester is facing a court deadline in a judicial proceeding.
Finally, a request will be expedited if the subject of the request is of widespread and exceptional media interest and the information sought involves possible questions about the government's integrity which affect public confidence. Decisions to expedite under this fourth standard are made by DOJ's Director of Public Affairs.
If you believe that your request might qualify for expedited processing under one of these four standards, you must specifically ask the component for expedited handling of your request. When you do, you should provide a certified statement explaining why you believe that your request qualifies under one of the four standards.
Are there any fees?
There is no initial fee required to submit a FOIA request, but the FOIA does provide for the charging of certain types of fees in some instances.
For a typical requester the component can charge for the time it takes to search for records and for duplication of those records. For a typical requester there is no charge for the first two hours of search time or for the first 100 pages of duplication.
You may always include in your request letter a specific statement limiting the amount that you are willing to pay in fees. You will not be charged for any fees amounting to $25 or less. If a component estimates that the total fees for processing your request will exceed $25, it will notify you in writing of the estimate and offer you an opportunity to narrow your request in order to reduce the fees, unless you have already indicated a willingness to pay fees as high as those anticipated. The component will not continue to work on your request until you commit in writing to pay the actual or estimated total fee, designate an amount you are willing to pay, or indicate that you only seek what can be provided for free (if you are a noncommercial use requester). If you agree to pay fees for a records search, be aware that you may be required to pay such fees even if the search does not locate any responsive records or, if records are located, even if they are determined to be entirely exempt from disclosure.
Can I ask that any fees be waived?
You may request a waiver of fees. Under the FOIA fee waivers are limited to situations in which a requester can show that the disclosure of the requested information is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations and activities of the government and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester. Requests for fee waivers from individuals who are seeking records pertaining to themselves usually do not meet this standard. In addition, a requester's inability to pay fees is not a legal basis for granting a fee waiver.
What can I expect in response to my request?
Once the component has processed your request and any fee issues have been resolved, the component will send you a written response and will usually include all documents that can be disclosed to you. The response letter will advise you of whether any information is being withheld pursuant to one or more of the nine exemptions to the FOIA. The letter might also include a notification that Congress provided special protection for three narrow categories of law enforcement records that are excluded from the FOIA and so are not part of the agency’s response. If pages of information have been withheld in full, the component ordinarily will specify the number of pages being withheld or make a reasonable effort to estimate the volume of the withheld information. Where a page of a record is being withheld in part, the withheld portions of the page will ordinarily be specifically marked with the applicable exemptions.
Can I appeal the response to my request?
You may file an administrative appeal if you are not satisfied with a DOJ component's initial response. You will be advised of your right to file an administrative appeal in the component's response if it contains an adverse determination. All appeals must be made in writing and addressed to the Office of Information Policy. Appeals may be submitted via mail or electronically through OIP’s web portal on FOIA STAR. The appeal must be postmarked, or in the case of electronic submissions, transmitted, within 90 calendar days after the date of the response. In order to submit a FOIA administrative appeal through FOIA STAR, you must first create an account and became a registered user on the site.
There is no specific form or particular language needed to file an administrative appeal. You should identify the component that denied your request and include the initial request number that the component assigned to your request and the date of the component's action. There is no need to attach copies of released documents unless they pertain to some specific point you are raising in your administrative appeal. You should explain what specific action by the component that you are appealing, but you need not explain the reason for your disagreement with the component's action unless your explanation will assist the appeal decision-maker in reaching a decision.
Administrative appeals from DOJ components are reviewed by an attorney in the Office of Information Policy. The attorney ordinarily will have available all of the files pertaining to the processing of your request and will make an independent determination as to whether the component has properly handled your request.
The Office of Information Policy may take one of several actions on your administrative appeal. It may affirm the component's action in full, in which case it will typically identify the reason why the component's action was proper. Alternatively, it may affirm part of the component's action, but otherwise "remand" the request in part for the component to take some further action. Finally, under some circumstances, it may remand the request to the component in its entirety for further action. When a case is remanded, you will have an opportunity to appeal again to the Office of Information Policy if you are dissatisfied in any respect with the component's action on remand.
If I'm still dissatisfied, are there other options?
During the course of the request process, the component’s FOIA contact or its FOIA Public Liaison can assist you in a variety of ways, from working with you on the scope of your request and the searches that will be done, to arranging an alternative time frame for processing your request, to providing information on the status of your request, and increasing your understanding of the request process. Once you have received a response, you can file an administrative appeal and have the action of the component independently reviewed by OIP.
In addition, there is now an office established within the National Archives and Records Administration called the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), which offers mediation services to FOIA requesters as an alternative to litigation. Using OGIS’s services does not preclude you from filing a FOIA lawsuit.
Finally, the FOIA provides requesters with the right to challenge an agency's action in federal court. A federal judge will conduct an independent review of the agency’s action on your request. Before filing a lawsuit, you ordinarily will be required to have first filed an administrative appeal.
What does the presumption of openness mean?
FOIA provides that when processing requests, agencies should withhold information only if they reasonably foresee that disclosure would harm an interest protected by an exemption, or if disclosure is prohibited by law. Agencies should also consider whether partial disclosure of information is possible whenever they determine that full disclosure is not possible and they should take reasonable steps to segregate and release nonexempt information.
What if I still have questions?
If you still have questions regarding the processing of FOIA requests at the Department of Justice, additional information can be found in the Department of Justice Freedom of Information Act Reference Guide