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In early 1975, the FBI assigned a handful of employees the task of handling an anticipated influx of Freedom of Information Act requests due to new legislation. Although the Freedom of Information Act had been in effect since 1967, it did not apply to investigatory files compiled for law enforcement purposes, thus generally exempting FBI files from public access.

By the end of 1975, amendments to the Freedom of Information Act had become effective and the Privacy Act of 1974 also became effective. The passage of these laws provided for broad access to FBI records which previously had been severely limited.

The task of responding to these Freedom of Information-Privacy Acts (FOIPA) requests became a very large one indeed. Some single requests have resulted in the processing of thousands of pages of records. In very simple terms, when a request is received it is logged into a computer and assigned a number for tracking purposes; it is acknowledged; an indices search is conducted to determine if the FBI has responsive records; and the file(s) is located and reviewed to determine if it is fact "ident" or the correct file.

Once a file has been identified as being responsive to a request, it is photocopied, and the work copy is reviewed by an analyst to determine if any portions should be withheld from the requester under any various exemptions permitted by the FOIPA. The analyst uses a colored marker to delete any exempt material, writes in the margins the particular exemption cited, and has the work copy re-copied using a photocopier with a special filter. The portions that appeared in translucent color on the work copy are black on the release copy. The release copy is mailed to the requester upon receipt of payment of fees, if applicable.

This labor intensive process has been repeated thousands of times since 1975. In the past twenty plus years, the FBI has handled over 300,000 requests and over six million pages of FBI documents have been released to the public in paper format. Currently, an automated document processing system is under development that will replace the "marker pen" method and allow for documents to be released in electronic format.

For the FOIPA Section web page, we have selected several FBI cases which may be of interest to the public. These documents also appear in paper form in our traditional reading room in Washington, D.C. As time and resources permit, additional cases will be created in electronic format and placed on the web site for public viewing.

If you have difficulty accessing any material on this site because of a disability, please contact us in writing or via telephone and we will work with you to make the information available.

Freedom of Information/Privacy Act Section

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