February 10, 2017

Wyden Questions FBI Limits on Online FOIA Filings

New Freedom of Information Act System Creates Unnecessary Hurdles to Filing Online Requests

Washington, D.C. – Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., asked the Federal Bureau of Investigations to explain limits for online Freedom of Information Act requests, which are reportedly set to take effect next month.

While it is admirable that the FBI has sought to make it easier to receive and process FOIA requests, there are a number of limitations with the online portal. These limitations may become serious problems if this system is to be the sole method through which the agency can receive digital FOIA requests,” Wyden wrote in a letter to the FBI.

I urge you to remedy these unnecessary limits on FOIA submissions and continue to accept email submissions, absent a portal capable of accepting all FOIA requests.”

Earlier this month, media reports indicated the FBI will no longer accept FOIA requests over email, instead requiring requests to go through an online portal, snail mail, or fax, beginning March 1.

Wyden asked the FBI to continue accepting emailed FOIA requests until an appropriate online portal is in place.

Wyden also asked the FBI to explain several new limits on FOIA requests including:

  • A 3,000-character limit on FOIA requests;
  • A lack of clarity about whether internal FBI communications can be requested through the online portal;
  • Technical barriers to automatic FOIA requests, which limits innovation by researchers and journalists.

Read the full letter here.

FOIA allows individuals, reporters and organizations to request information from the federal government, and is a critical tool for ensuring transparency and holding the government accountable. Wyden is a strong defender of government transparency and Americans’ access to government records. Last year, the FBI removed the requirement for requesters to provide ID to file FOIA requests, after Wyden questioned the practice.