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A Look Into the FBI's "Everything Bucket" 31

Death Metal notes an EFF report on information wrested from the FBI over the last three years via Freedom of Information requests. The report characterizes what Ars Technica calls the FBI's "Everything Bucket" — its Investigative Data Warehouse. (Here's the EFF's introduction and the report itself.) The warehouse, at least 7 years in the making, "...appears to be something like a combination of Google and a university's slightly out-of-date custom card catalog with a front-end written for Windows 2000 that uses cartoon icons that some work-study student made in Microsoft Paint. I guess I'm supposed to fear the IDW as an invasion of privacy, and indeed I do, but given the report's description of it and my experiences with the internal-facing software products of large, sprawling, unaccountable bureaucracies, I mostly just fear for our collective safety."
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A Look Into the FBI's "Everything Bucket"

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  • Well, I'm glad someone out there with lawyers is taking advantage of the Freedom of Information Act [wikipedia.org] (FOIA). To see how the EFF has taken advantage of it, their main FOIA [eff.org] with the subpage on this entire DOJ Investigative Data Warehouse topic [eff.org] and all the documents they've collected (some are linked in main story) [eff.org].

    If you are a US citizen, you yourself are able to make a FOIA request [state.gov].
  • by Smidge207 ( 1278042 ) on Friday May 01, 2009 @10:29AM (#27786745) Journal

    *sigh* My dear frined eldavojohn is suffering from a case of naivety, I fear.

    In fact most of my FOIA requests have been with the FBI. To date, I've filed 57 requests with them. Of these, 8 have resulted in documents, 18 were "no records" (including cases where records had been destroyed), and the remainder are still open. The most important thing to know about the FBI is that their records system is decentralized. By this I mean that every FBI field office keeps its own records, and there is no centralized database for searching all records at once. Yes, FBI Headquarters (HQ) in Washington, D.C. keep lots of files, but just because FBI HQ doesn't have any records on a topic doesn't mean that the field offices don't. For example, I requested information on an organization called the Youth International Party Line, or YIPL, which was based in New York City during the 1970s. FBI HQ had no records on YIPL, but the New York field office did.

    What this means for you is that you need to send FOIA requests to both FBI HQ and to any FBI field office that you think might have records responsive to your request. This is a pain, but it's not the end of the world. There are about 56 FBI field offices and you can use the same FOIA request letter for each one, so we're talking about at most $22 in postage to spam all of their field offices with your request. This link provides a list of all the FBI field offices, and this other link provides the same list in Microsoft Word mailing label format. The second important thing to know about the FBI is that their records system is broken up into "automated" (i.e., computerized) and "manual" indices. The manual indices are for criminal investigations prior to 1973 and security investigations prior to 1958. By default, the FBI generally searches only the automated indices, since it's much easier for them to do so. If your request covers times prior to 1973, you should add a big bold note specifically asking them to search both the automated and manual indices. Wise up or shut up, eldavojohn, my dear twisted sister.


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