The US Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) has launched a website where people can make Freedom of Information Act requests, but there’s a few catches. 

The eFOIA beta requires those who want to ask for information from the security agency to upload a photo of “government issued ID”.

Each time a person files a request they are required to provide a copy of a driving licence or former identification card. This is “so the FBI is confident in the identity of the requester.”

At present, and possibly while the system is only in a beta stage, requesters can only submit one FOIA request a day.

The types of requests are also limited: “Your requests are limited to information about organizations, events, or deceased individuals,” the FBI says. 

Anyone in the world is able to submit FOIA requests to the US, as is the same with the UK, but there’s no position on how the eFOIA system will interact, or if it will at all interact, with requests from outside of the US. (This website has submitted a request along with a charming photograph of a British passport to see if the request is processed. Confirmation of the request has been received but it is not clear at this stage if it will be answered. 

There is also no provision for including verification of ID in the US federal Act.

The system has already drawn criticism from privacy and online campaign group the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The group said it’s not clear what the FBI will be doing with the photos it will receive or if they will be compared against the FBI’s mugshot database.

“The FBI should not be collecting any more information than it absolutely needs to process a request,” EFF said in an online post.

“With FOIA, it’s the public who gets to ask “papers, please,” not the other way around.”

Earlier this year the Department for Homeland Security went one step further than the FBI and launched a FOI app for making requests. 

I am a journalist and author. I am a journalist at the UK edition of WIRED magazine. In 2015, my first book Freedom of Information: A Practical Guide for UK Journalists, was published. My second book Reed Hastings: Building Netflix, was published in March 2020. I created FOI Directory in 2012 and have maintained it in my spare time ever since.