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Accessing Department of Homeland Security Records through the Freedom of Information Act

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a federal statute. FOIA generally provides that any person has a right to request access to federal agency records. FOIA also establishes a presumption that records in the possession of agencies and departments of the Executive Branch of the U. S. Government are accessible to the people, except to the extent the records are protected from disclosure by any of nine exemptions contained in the law or by one of three special law enforcement record exclusions. 

Records released may contain information withheld under one of the nine FOIA exemptions:

  1. National defense and foreign relations information that is currently and properly classified as authorized by Executive Order.
  2. Pertains solely to the internal rules and practices of the agency.
  3. Information that is prohibited from disclosure by another federal law.
  4. Applies to information such as trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person on a privileged or a confidential basis.
  5. Applies to inter- and intra-agency communications, which are deliberative in nature and involve the decision making process.
  6. Applies to information that would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of the privacy of an individual.
  7. Records of information compiled for law enforcement purposes, to the extent that the production of those records
    (A) could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings, (B) would deprive a person of a right to a fair trial or an impartial adjudication, (C) could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, (D) could reasonably be expected to disclose the identity of a confidential source, (E) would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions, or would disclose guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions, or (F) could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual.
  8. Information relating to the supervision of financial institutions.
  9. Contains geological or geophysical information concerning wells.

A Privacy Act Request is one in which an individual seeks records on themselves that are contained in a file within an agency system of records that is retrievable by the individual’s name or personal identifier. All Privacy Act Requests must be submitted in writing and contain the requester’s original signature. Privacy Act requests are processed under both the FOIA & PA to allow maximum disclosure to the requester.

Ensuring a Citizen-Centered FOIA Program

On December 14, 2005, the President signed Executive Order 13,392, entitled “Improving Agency Disclosure of Information,” which requires agencies to ensure their FOIA programs are citizen-centered. The requirements include establishing the departmental position of Chief FOIA Officer, a departmental FOIA Requester Service Center, and identifying FOIA Public Liaisons within each component of the Department. These positions work to ensure FOIA requests are processed in an efficient manner and improved customer service.

  • The Department conducted a review of its FOIA operations and submitted a FOIA Improvement Plan  to the Department of Justice and the Office of Management and Budget.
  • On January 19, 2007, the Department submitted its revised FOIA Improvement Plan (PDF, 45 pages - 350 KB) to the Department of Justice and the Office of Management and Budget.


For more information please contact the DHS Privacy Office’s FOIA Program:

The Privacy Office
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
245 Murray Drive SW
STOP 0550
Washington, DC 20528
Telephone: 703-235-0790
Facsimile: 703-235-0443
Email: foia@dhs.gov

This page was last reviewed/modified on December 28, 2007.