The United States Freedom of Information Act has provided a path for requesting previously undisclosed documents from the US government since it was signed into law on July 4th, 1966.

Journalists and private citizens have filed numerous FOIA requests to bring government actions to light. And while the formal process for filing a request has never exactly been speedy, modern technology has made things a bit more accessible.

But, as the Daily Dot reports, the FBI has announced it’s shutting down one of the simplest paths for filing a FOIA request: starting March 1st you won’t be able to file a request by email anymore. Instead you can send a fax, use snail mail, or submit through a web portal… although there are some major restrictions on doing so.

Update: The FBI now says it will lift restrictions on the web portal, making it easier to file requests online, and allowing users to submit as many requests per day as they’d like. 


Government transparency advocates say there’s no good reason for the FBI to stop accepting requests by email, something it’s been doing successfully for a number of years.

Well actually, there might be one good reason… although it’s not necessarily good for you: requiring people to use older tech (like a fax machine) or slower methods (like snail mail) could reduce the number of requests and extend the amount of time it takes to get a response to a request.

While you can still file a request online using the government’s web portal, the FBI limits those requests to one per day per user, with no legal basis for that restriction — although the government might be able to claim it’s not actually limiting the number of requests a person can file since you can still send unlimited faxes.

Journalist and FOIA researcher Michael Best spotted the change in the FBI’s policy when filing a request earlier this week, noting that the FBI is providing less than 30 days notice of the change.

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