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How to Submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or Privacy Act Request to the Department of Homeland Security

Requirements for Submitting a FOIA Request

Submitting Requests

Each federal agency only responds to requests for its own records. Please submit only requests for Department of Homeland Security (DHS) records to us. Also, please note that the FOIA does not require the Department to answer questions, issue opinions, conduct legal research, create records or produce tangible objects in order to respond to a request.

Please include the following in your request:

  • Contact information: Please include your name, mailing address, phone number and an e-mail address so we can reach you with any questions concerning your request.
     
  • Complete description of the records you are requesting: Please include enough file-related information (type of document, title, subject area, date of creation, originating office) or enough event-related information (date and circumstances surrounding the event the record covers) for us to conduct a focused, time efficient search. Your request cannot be in the form of a question. FOIA does not require agencies to answer questions. Questions posed as FOIA requests will not be processed.
     
  • Additional requirements. If you are requesting records on yourself or another individual, see additional requirements under Requirements for Submitting a Privacy Act Request.
     
  • Fees: See “FOIA processing fees” for details.
     
  • Multiple requests. For faster handling, please note in your request whether you are submitting it to more to more than one Department component.

Send your completed request to the DHS component(s) you believe has the records you seek.

Benefit of Statute
First-party requests processed under FOIA for records found in “systems of records” will also be processed under the Privacy Act, regardless of the statute cited in the request. The term "system of records" refers to a group of any records under the control of any agency from which information is retrieved by the name of the individual or by some identifying number, symbol, or other identifying particular assigned to the individual. You will always be given the benefit of the statute with the more liberal release requirement.

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Limits on FOIA Requests

While the FOIA supports disclosure of federal agency records, the law recognizes the legitimate need to restrict disclosure of some information.

The FOIA does not grant an absolute right to examine government documents; the FOIA establishes the right to request records and to receive a response to the request.

If a record cannot be released, you will be told the reason for the denial. You also have the right to appeal the denial and, if necessary, to challenge it in court.

There are certain types of information that are not available under the FOIA:

  • Tangible objects may not be requested under the FOIA.
     
  • Information about another individual may be requested under the FOIA, but release is subject to application of the balancing test to decide whether the privacy interest of the affected party outweighs the public interest in the release of said information.
     
  • Information covered under FOIA Exemptions.

If you are seeking answers to questions or an explanation of a policy or regulation, you must contact the specific Department program office for information. See “Where to send a request.” Media-related inquiries may be directed to the Department's Office of Public Affairs at 202-282-8010.

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Requirements for Submitting a Privacy Act Request

If you believe that the Department has records on you, please submit the following information:

  • State your full name, current address, date of birth, and place of birth.
     
  • If you request the Department to release records pertaining to you to another individual, (i.e. requesters seeking records to be released to their attorney or someone else acting on their behalf, those seeking to have records released to a parent or legal guardian), you must include a signed statement certifying your agreement for that individual to access records about you.
     
  • Explain why you believe the Department would have information on you.
     
  • Identify which Department component(s) you believe may have information about you.
     
  • Identify which of the Department's system of records (the term "system of records" means a group of any records under the control of any agency from which information is retrieved by the name of the individual or by some identifying number, symbol, or other identifying particular assigned to the individual) you believe the records are to be found in.
     
  • Specify when you believe the records were created.
     
  • Provide any other information that will help the FOIA staff determine which Department component agency may have responsive records.
     
  • Sign your request. Your signature must either be notarized or submitted by you under 28 U.S.C. 1746, a law that permits statements to be made under penalty of perjury as a substitute for notarization.

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FOIA Processing Fees

FOIA provisions allow us to recover part of the cost of complying with your request.

Fees are assessed in accordance with the Department of Homeland Security FOIA/PA regulations (PDF, 15 pages - 147 KB), based on three categories of requestors:

  • Commercial requesters—charged for search time, document review, and duplication
  • News media, educational, and scientific requesters—charged for duplication only after the first 100 pages
  • All other requesters—charged for search time (after two hours) and duplication (the first 100 pages are free)

Current Departmental fees are:

  • duplication at 10 cents per page
  • clerical search/document review at $4.00/15 minutes
  • professional search/document review at $7.00/15 minutes
  • managerial search/document review at $10.25/15 minutes

We do not charge when assessable fees are less than $14.

Your submission of a request will be deemed to be an implicit commitment to pay up to $25 in fees, unless you indicate a higher amount or request a fee waiver.

You will be promptly notified if the anticipated fees exceed $25.

Multiple FOIA requests by a single requester related to the same issue will be aggregated for the purpose of assessing fees.

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Requesting a Fee Waiver

To qualify for a fee waiver, you must:

  • Demonstrate that 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.
     
  • Include a detailed justification to support your claim of public interest. Your justification must also include how the information will be provided and distributed to the public.

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Response Times

In general, the FOIA requires an agency to respond to FOIA requests within 20 business days after the office that maintains the responsive records receives the request. The business day response requirement is not necessarily the time frame for releasing responsive documents.

The Department processes its requests by date of receipt at the proper office maintaining the required records on a first-in, first-out basis, except for exceptions outlined in the FOIA and the Department of Homeland Security FOIA implementing regulations.

For example, under certain conditions, your request may receive expedited processing if you meet the criteria established in our regulations. However, an expedited request will be processed on a first-in, first-out basis with other expedited requests. 

Expedited processing of a request may be granted in accordance with Department of Homeland Security FOIA/PA regulations (PDF, 15 pages - 147 KB).

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Where to send a request

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 For more information, please contact the Department's Privacy Office's Freedom of Information Act/Privacy Act Program:

FOIA/PA
The Privacy Office
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
245 Murray Drive SW
STOP-0655
Washington, D.C. 20528-0655
Toll-free: 866-431-0486
Telephone: 703-235-0790
Facsimile: 703-235-0443
Email: foia@dhs.gov

See contact information for Chief FOIA OfficerDeputy Chief FOIA Officer/Director of DisclosureFOIA Requester Service Centers, and Public Liaison.

Last Published Date: August 1, 2012
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