Mar 18, 2020 - Health

FBI stops FOIA online requests, asks for mailed letters instead

The FBI headquarters building is viewed on July 5, 2016 in Washington, DC.

Photo: Yuri Gripas/AFP via Getty Images

The FBI announced on its website for Freedom of Information Act matters Tuesday that it's only accepting requests sent through the mail and won't process electronic ones "[d]ue to the emerging COVID-19 situation."

Why it matters: New Trump administration guidelines in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak recommend social distancing measures, including limiting social gatherings of more than 10 people. There's a global push for people who are able to switch to online work remotely to do so.

A screenshot of the FBI website
A screenshot of the FBI eFOIPA web page.
  • The Freedom of Information Act was intended to make federal government functions more transparent, providing Americans with the right to request access to records from any federal agency.

The intrigue: It is unclear from the statement posted to the Freedom of Information/Privacy Act submission portal page why it wants requests sent in the mail.

What they're saying: While the FBI has yet to comment publicly on the reason for its decision, a government attorney said in a statement to BuzzFeed the "rapidly evolving" outbreak is forcing the FBI to "drastically reduce its FOIA processing because it cannot do the work remotely, due to the system’s security constraints."

  • "The FOIA processors need to be on-site to do the work, but they are too closely positioned to be able to conform to the new social distancing guidance," the attorney added. "FBI is working on a response, but it is not clear when it will have one. And the production scheduled for the end of this month is now on hold, along with productions in many other cases."

Flashback: Forget email. The FBI wants your requests via fax

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