Learn About Records and Records Requests

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) gives the public the right to request access to records from any federal agency. It is often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government. Federal agencies are required to disclose any information requested under the FOIA unless it falls under one of nine exemptions, which protect interests such as personal privacy, national security, and law enforcement.

The FOIA only applies to federal agencies and not Congress, the courts, or state or local governments. Any requests for state or local government records should be directed to the appropriate state or local government agency.

The FOIA requires that some records previously processed for disclosure under the Act be routinely made "available for public inspection and copying.” Please review our Administrative Rulings, Policy Statements, and Other Publications before you make a request or go to the Search page where you will find over 200,000 records already posted online.

The Privacy Act mandates how federal agencies maintain records about individuals. Certain individuals may request copies of their own records maintained by a federal agency if they are maintained by the agency within a “system of records.”

Mandatory Declassification Review is a provision under Executive Order 13526 that allows members of the public to request the declassification and release of a specific classified document.

Types of Records

The Department of State maintains records concerning:

  • The formulation and execution of U.S. foreign policy.
  • The administration and operation of the Department of State and U.S. Missions abroad.
  • Consular assistance to U.S. citizens abroad.
  • Current and former employees of the Department of State.
  • U.S. passports.
  • Visa requests from non-citizens to enter the U.S.
      You may wish to view the Visa Records Contact Information to determine where the visa records you are seeking are maintained.

Please note, generally, permanent records 25 years and older, pre-1925 passport, and pre-1940 visa records are property of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).