We learned through the Snowden revelations that the United States government was surveilling nearly every person in the United States and in a handful of other countries via drag-net methods.

I was wondering if I could, via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), request a copy of any data they have of me? Surely I am entitled to it, correct?

I lost a family member recently, and I would like to keep any recordings that contain me for archival/historical purposes.

  • 1
    It's complicated. Your question may have better luck on Law.SE.
    – bishop
    Commented Nov 30, 2020 at 0:03
  • Some where George Orwell is saying "I told you so!"
    – Noah
    Commented Nov 30, 2020 at 4:02

3 Answers 3


As a slightly different take than JohnFx's answer yes, you can submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the various intelligence agencies to request copies of the data they have on you. However, odds are it will be redacted to a point of it being worth very little aside from an acknowledgment that an agency has collected on you. That is, of course, if they are even authorized to release anything at all.

To explain why that is, we have to go to the origin of authorization to collect on U.S. persons: Executive Order 12333. In essence, there are two legal means for intelligence agencies to collect on U.S. persons:

  1. If it is collected in the process of collecting on a non-U.S. persons target, e.g. a U.S. person called a non-U.S. person being collected on.
  2. If the collecting has been approved by a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Act (FISA) court.

Both of these entail classified means, classified targets, and classified reasons, so odds are that any records collected on a U.S. person will not be permitted to be released in anywhere near complete, lest sources and methods be compromised. So all that being said, yes you most certainly can request a copy of collected phone calls, but no, most likely they will not be released to you.

I am sorry for your loss.

As full disclosure I work for an intelligence agency so my answer may reflect biases.


Yes, you can request that through FOIA. You just need to google the agency name that you think has those records and "FOIA" to find the instructions for submitting such a request. By law they have 20 days to respond. However, they can withhold records or redact them for numerous reasons (called "exemptions"). if they withhold them they have to give you an explanation of those reasons.

One other thing, in many cases the agency can charge you a fee for processing your request, but it normally isn't all that much. Just to cover their expenses.

I suggest checking our FOIA.GOV for more details on that law.

You shouldn't need a lawyer to make a request. Many agencies even have an online form to make a request.

  • 6
    I am skeptical of the certainity implied by "Yes." Do you have an example of someone doing this? Otherwise, the answer reads more like a "Maybe... and here is how you go about making a FOIA request."
    – bishop
    Commented Nov 30, 2020 at 4:21
  • 5
    My job actually involves the handling of FOIA requests. You can absolutely request these types of documents. The issue is whether they will claim an exemption and reject your request. I added a link to a video that describes the legal grounds by which an agency might be able to reject a request. All else being equal, the guidance DOJ gives to the agencies is release it unless you have a compelling reason not to, even if it could technically be exempt from disclosure.
    – JohnFx
    Commented Nov 30, 2020 at 18:24
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    I agree with @bishop that the odds of actually getting anything with such a request are basically nil.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Dec 1, 2020 at 1:44
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    @ohwilleke - If so, I don't think it would be due to the agency blocking it as much as them not having the wherewithal to be able to put their hands on those recordings easily. If they even exist. Never hurts to ask though.
    – JohnFx
    Commented Dec 1, 2020 at 5:01
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    @Kevin: I disagree. The FBI FOIA is disjoint from the common FOIA system, and has its own requirements. In particular, the FBI FOIA records requests has 9 exemptions and I believe the requested records would fall under them. Hence, no I don't think one can ask for these records. Hence my comment.
    – bishop
    Commented Dec 1, 2020 at 19:56

As JohnFx said, you can request that information through an FCC FOIA request. It's fairly easy, though I did read somewhere that it's probably not a good idea to request the information unless you're 100% sure that you have nothing to hide. I read somewhere that the FCC might watch you more if you request that data or analyze your data.

Just a thought. Expenses are $25 I think, unless you're searching for very specific content.

  • 1
    The Federal Communication Commission does not watch private citizens. Their job is to regulate broadcasting and telecommunication companies. Are you perhaps confusing them with the FBI, CIA or NSA?
    – Philipp
    Commented Dec 1, 2020 at 11:34

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