There is a long history of government agencies surveilling and keeping records on individual activists, organizers, artists and anyone they decided to keep an eye on. From Malcolm X to Aretha Franklin, Pete Seeger, AIDS activists to people involved with the Movement for Black Lives, not only the FBI but also DHS and other federal, state and local agencies have targeted and kept records on people, especially those involved with progressive and liberation struggles in support of Black people and challenging government and corporate power structures.
This resource from the Open Records Project at the Center for Constitutional Rights provides a template, created from actual individual FOIA work that we have done, for requesting any records that federal agencies may have on yourself, or on fellow activists, organizers or others that you suspect the government is targeting or surveilling.
A few notes to consider when filing an individual FOIA and using this resource:
- As is typical with all types of FOIA requests, the bigger the request, the greater the chance it will take longer to get responsive documents.
- Sometimes, individuals will ask another person, lawyer or organization to file a request on their behalf. Make sure that if you decide to have someone else file a request on your behalf, that you have included and signed all the proper waiver forms from the agency(s) indicating your permission to have someone else file the FOIA for you.
- Remember that advocacy and media strategies, as well as litigation (if needed), can sometimes assist you in getting agencies to release documents to you.
- While this example is for a federal FOIA request, individual state and local requests will follow a similar general outline. Make sure to review your state’s open records laws before filing. We recommend the state guides available at Reporter’s Committee and MuckRock for more information!
- Consider reviewing our Breaking the Lock resource for potential ways to include more detailed requests related to personal data.
Good luck on your requesting records!