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U.S. Department of State: Freedom of Information Act
Freedom of Information Act

Request

Request Personal Information
Please note: If your request seeks personal information about a living person, your request should be:
  • Mailed in (and cannot be faxed or submitted online).
  • Accompanied either by an original, notarized signature, or an original signature with a "penalty of perjury statement".
  • If required, a Third Party Authorization.
For additional information, please view the Information Access Guide.

Date Range of Request
Please provide a timeframe for which you would like the Department to search for relevant material.
  • If you are searching for information surrounding a particular event, it is suggested that you set a date range prior to the date of the event if you are interested in background material.
  • Please remember that the greater the date range, the longer it may take to process your request and the greater the amount of fees that you will be charged.
  • Please note: permanent Department of State records that were created prior to 1977 and pre-1925 passport and pre-1940 visa records are property of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). For information on how to locate Department of State Records at the National Archives go to State Department Records in the National Archives.


Description of Request
Describe the records you are seeking as clearly and precisely as you can. If your request is vague or too broad, we may ask you to be more specific, and this can delay the processing of your request. if you are requesting a copy of a Department of State contract, please provide the contract number.

The Department of State maintains records dealing with:
  1. The formulation and execution of U.S. Foreign policy
  2. The administration and operations of the Department of State and U.S. missions abroad
  3. Applications from U.S. citizens for U.S. passports
  4. Visa requests from non-citizens to enter the U.S.
  5. Consular assistance given to U.S. citizens abroad
  6. Current and former employees of the Department
The following information will assist us in conducting a search:
  • Type of record;
  • Timeframe of record;
  • Specific subject matter, country, person and/or organization;
  • Offices, bureaus, embassies, or consulates originating or receiving the record;
  • Particular event, policy or circumstance that led to the creation of the record;
  • Reason why you believe the record exists;
  • If requesting information involving a contract with the Department of State, the contract number, approximate date, type of contract, and name of contractor.
Please note: if you are requesting personal information on yourself on behalf of someone else, you will not be able to electronically submit your request. A request for passport or visa records requires an original, notarized signature or a dated signature under penalty of perjury and therefore cannot be sent electronically. Please see instructions provided in the Department of State Information Access Guide/Manual for more information.

It is helpful if you provide the names of the offices or bureaus within the Department that are believed to have created the requested information. Please see the Organizational List of Bureaus and Offices and the Embassy Listing to help you to determine where the records were created.

You may wish to view the Department of State’s Domestic and Foreign Records Disposition Schedules to examine the types of records maintained by the offices and bureaus within the Department and the guidelines concerning the retention of those records. The Records Disposition Schedules can be accessed from the FOIA/Privacy Act Reference Guide.

Expedited Processing
If selected, please restrict the parameters of this FOIA request to the State Department's automated online electronic repository of Central Foreign Policy Files-- State Archiving System (SAS). SAS contains over 25 million electronic records including telegraphic and written communications from/through the Department and its diplomatic and consular posts from July 1976 to present.

Fees Charged

Search and review costs will be calculated based upon the pay scale of the person conducting the search or review. Duplication costs are assessed for only those documents that ultimately are released in full or denied in part; duplication costs are not assessed for documents denied in full, or referred to originating agencies for direct reply.

Agreement to Pay Applicable Fees

By making a FOIA request, the requester shall be considered to have agreed to pay all applicable fees up to $25.00 unless a fee waiver has been granted. If the Department estimates that the search costs will exceed $25.00, the requester shall be so notified. Such notice shall offer the requester the opportunity to confer with Department personnel with the object of reformulating the request to meet the requester's needs at a lower cost. The request shall not be processed further unless the requester agrees to pay the estimated fees.

When Fees are Assessed

Fees are generally assessed by the Department at the conclusion of processing a request. If it is estimated that allowable charges are likely to exceed $250, the Department may require a requester to make an advanced payment.

Fees Owed in Connection with Prior Requests

Requesters who owe fees incurred in connection with the processing of previous requests should pay the fees owed prior to the Department processing any new requests. Such requests will be designated "invalid" until payment in full is received.

Fee Limits

Requesters may set a limit on the amount that they are willing to pay. If it is anticipated that fees will exceed the fee limit set by the requester, or if in processing the request, fees begin to exceed the requester’s fee limit, the Department will contact the requester. If the requester has provided a telephone number, the Department will attempt to call the requester to resolve the matter quickly.

It is recommended that the requester indicates the maximum amount of fees that they are willing to pay with their initial request.

Search

For both manual and computer searches, the Department will charge the estimated direct cost of each search based on the average current salary rates (including benefits) of the categories of personnel doing the searches.

Review of Records

It is Department policy to charge the same hourly rates for review as for searching. Only requesters who are seeking documents for commercial use may be charged for time spent reviewing records to determine whether they are releasable. Charges may be assessed for the initial review only; i.e., the review undertaken the first time the Department analyzes the applicability of a specific exemption to a particular record or portion of a record.

Search and Review Rates

The categories of personnel that may conduct searches and reviews and the estimated hourly costs based on the average current salary rates (including benefits) for those categories are:

  • Administrative/clerical – $21/hour
  • Professional – $41/hour
  • Executive -- $76/hour

Duplication of Records

Records shall be duplicated at a rate of $.15 per page.



Requester Categories

For purposes of fees only, the FOIA divides requests into the following categories:

Commercial Use Requests

Commercial use request means a request from or on behalf of one who requests information for a use or purpose that furthers the commercial, trade, or profit interest of the requester or the person on whose behalf the request is made.

The Department will assess charges that recover the full direct costs of searching for, reviewing for release, and duplicating the record sought.

Educational Institution Requests

Educational institution means a preschool, a public or private elementary or secondary school, an institution of undergraduate or graduate higher education, an institution of professional education, or an institution of vocational education, that operates a program or programs of scholarly research.

Note: For Colleges and Universities, a statement signed by the chairperson of the department to which the requester belongs, attesting to the fact that the request is being made on the institution’s behalf in accordance with the criteria stated in 22CFR171.15(b), will serve as documentation supporting the requester’s inclusion in this category.

The Department shall provide documents to requesters in this category for the cost of reproduction alone, excluding charges for the first 100 pages.

Noncommercial Scientific Institution Requests

Non-commercial scientific institution means an institution that is not operated on a "commercial" basis and that is operated solely for the purpose of conducting scientific research, the results of which are not intended to promote any particular product or industry.

The Department shall provide documents to requesters in this category for the cost of reproduction alone, excluding charges for the first 100 pages.

Representatives of the News Media Requests

Representative of the news media means any person actively gathering news for an entity that is organized and operated to publish or broadcast news to the public. The term news means information that is about current events or that would be of current interest to the public. News media include television or radio stations broadcasting to the public at large and publishers of periodicals (but only in those instances when they can qualify as disseminators of ``news'') who make their products available for purchase by the general public.

The Department shall provide documents to requesters in this category for the cost of reproduction alone, excluding charges for the first 100 pages.

All Others Requests

Requests from persons not falling within any of the above categories.



Fee Waiver

Fees otherwise chargeable in connection with a request for disclosure of a record shall be waived or reduced where it is determined that disclosure is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.

In order to determine whether disclosure of the information is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government, the Department will consider the following four factors:

  1. The subject of the request: the subject of the requested records concerns the operations or activities of the government;
  2. The informative value of the information to be disclosed: the disclosure of the records is “likely to contribute” to an understanding of government operations or activities;
  3. The contribution to an understanding of the subject by the general public likely to result from disclosure, taking in your ability and intent to disseminate the information to the public; and
  4. The significance of the contribution to public understanding: whether the disclosure is likely to contribute “significantly” to public understanding of government operations or activities.

In order to determine whether disclosure of the information is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester, the Department will consider the following two factors:

  1. The existence and magnitude of a commercial interest: whether the requester has a commercial interest that would be furthered by the requested disclosure; and, if so,
  2. The primary interest in disclosure: whether the magnitude of the identified commercial interest of the requester is sufficiently large, in comparison with the public interest in disclosure.

The Department may refuse to consider waiver or reduction of fees for requesters (persons or organizations) from whom unpaid fees remain owed to the Department for another information access request.



Expeditious Handling
Requests and appeals shall be taken out of order and given expedited treatment whenever a requester has demonstrated that a "compelling need" for the information exists.

A "compelling need" is deemed to exist where the requester can demonstrate one of the following:
  1. Failure to obtain requested information on an expedited basis could reasonably be expected to pose an imminent threat to the life or physical safety of an individual.
  2. Substantial due process rights of the requester would be impaired by the failure to process immediately.
  3. Substantial humanitarian concerns would be harmed by the failure to process immediately.
  4. The information is urgently needed by an individual primarily engaged in publicizing information in order to inform the public concerning actual or alleged government activity. News media requesters would normally qualify; however, other persons should demonstrate that their primary activity involves publishing or otherwise disseminating information to the public, not just a particular segment or group.
    1. Urgently needed means that the information has a particular value that will be lost if not distributed quickly. Ordinarily this means a breaking news story of general public interest. Information of historical interest only, or information sought for litigation or commercial activities would not qualify, nor would a news media publication or broadcast deadline unrelated to the breaking nature of the story.
    2. Actual or alleged Federal Government activity. The information concerns some actions taken, contemplated, or alleged by or about the government of the United States, or one of its components or agencies, including the Congress.


Authorization for the Release of Records to Another Individual

In general, under the provisions of the FOIA and Privacy Act, access to information about private individuals cannot be given to unauthorized third parties without the individual’s written consent. If you provide authorization, your request will be processed with the greatest possible access. If you do not or are unable to provide authorization, your request will be processed, but release of records will be severely restricted to protect the privacy of another individual.

What Is A Proper Authorization? (22 C.F.R. 171.12(a))

  • Should be in writing
  • Should be on plain paper or your letterhead (NOTE: do not use forms from other agencies, as they do not authorize the Department of State to release documents)
  • Should authorize the Department of State to release documents concerning the individual to you
  • Should be signed by the individuals who the documents are about
  • Should contain either:
    1. A notarization from a notary public - which has the signature of the individual who is the subject of the records, the signature and seal of the notary, and be dated within six months of the request, or
    2. A statement from the individual who is the subject of the records saying: “I declare, certify, verify or state that, under penalty of perjury under the laws of the United States of America, the foregoing is true and correct.” This statement should be signed by the individual who the records are about, and be dated within six months of the date of the request.

Submitting the Authorization

The authorization(s) may be forwarded to us at: Office of Information Programs and Services, ATTN: A/GIS/IPS/RL, U.S. Department of State, SA-2, Washington, DC 20522-8100, or may be faxed to us at 202-261-8579. Please be sure to refer to your Case Control Number in your correspondence.

To ensure you receive the greatest possible access to documents, authorizations for all persons you are requesting records about should be received by this office within 30 calendar days of the date of this letter. If you are unable to provide an authorization, please notify us in writing. If proper authorizations are not received within 30 calendar days of the date of our letter, your request will be processed accordingly and the release of documents will be severely restricted.

Documents about a Deceased Person

For deceased individuals, unless the death has been widely reported, please provide proof of death, e.g., a newspaper obituary or a copy of a death certificate, or advise us that none will be forthcoming.

PLEASE NOTE: Please submit a separate authorization for each person you are requesting records about. For example, in cases involving an immigrant visa petitioner and one or more beneficiaries, please submit authorizations from the petitioner and all beneficiaries .

An Example of a Proper Authorization

RE: Case Control Number ______________________________

I, _____________________________, authorize the Department of State to release all records about me to ____________________________. I declare, certify, verify or state that, under penalty of perjury under the laws of the United States of America, the foregoing is true and correct.

_____________________________________ __________________
(signature) (date)



01-04-2018   Download Acrobat Reader