Due: Tuesday, September 29
Points: 5


A FOIA request for the FBI file of well-known deceased person, sent by email to the appropriate FBI office and CC’ed to


  • The person’s file must not be readily available, i.e. at least do a Google search for: “FBI file person’s name

  • You can choose someone from the list you created in the casual introduction to spreadsheets assignment.

  • If you and a classmate had the same person, try to work it out so that the same person isn’t FOIAed twice by our class.

  • CC me at

  • You can email the FBI from whatever email address you wish.

So that everyone can say they've made use of the federal public records law, we'll go with a well-known form: asking the Federal Bureau of Investigation for records on the deceased.

From the FBI's webpage, Requesting FBI Records:

The Freedom of Information Act allows any person – except fugitives, federal agencies, and foreign intelligence agencies – to request information about organizations, businesses, investigations, historical events, incidents, groups, or deceased persons.

Instructions and requirements for the request can be found on the FBI's website. Here's a short list of resources relating to FOIA'ing for FBI files

If you read through a few of the past requests on MuckRock (e.g. Johnny Cash, Hannah Arendt, Christopher Hitchens), you might think to yourself, all these letters look almost exactly alike…so I should just copy-and-paste one of them.

This is an attitude that I wholeheartedly encourage. You're not writing a term paper here, you're going through the motions of a well-worn law.

Part of being effective at public records requests is just knowing that the law exists and that it has enforceable rules for officials to follow. The consequence of this is that much of a records request is just a formal process, and so using a template letter – by any reasonable assumption – should not have a negative impact when weighing the validity or legality of the request.

The upshot is to reflexively know that the hard part of a records request is not writing_ the 95% of the letter that is boilerplate. Save your energy for doing the research needed to request something useful. That's a useful enough lesson to learn.

Of course, don't expect all other types of records requests to be as cookie cutter as this one. Even so, this makes it even more important that you develop the ability to discern between the details that are boilerplate and the details that can send your request into a legal quagmire.