Frequently Asked Questions
Have a question that’s not on here? E-mail us and we’ll respond personally.
I clicked “Submit,” and now my request says “Processing.” What do I need to do?
Nothing! We’re working on packaging up your request and getting it to the agency. This can take anywhere from a few seconds to a few hours, particularly for the Treasury Department which has its own special rules. If you notice one of your requests has been “processing” for an extremely long time, e-mail us and we will try and update you on what’s going on.
Why this site? Can’t I submit a request on my own?
MuckRock was created precisely because we had filed requests on our own, and because we were extremely frustrated by the process: It’s often difficult to find the right contact information for an agency, to understand which laws do and don’t apply to them, and to continue following up until you get a response. MuckRock takes out all this legwork and lets you focus on what you’re interested in: The information. Because public records requests are all we focus on, we’re also well-equipped to make sure the initial letters are well-worded and to turn stacks of paper into searchable, embeddable PDFs and spreadsheets that make it easier to find any needles in a haystack that might be lurking in your succesful request.
Can I get help 24/7?
Except during brief downtimes familiar to every site, MuckRock is available and operating 24/7/365, and you’re welcome to file a request anytime, whether it’s when you have a spark of 3 a.m. inspiration or during a 4 p.m. City Council meeting. We also have fanatical support staff accessible by e-mail and willing to help out with everything from technical issues to crafting an appeal letter. We try to respond to most emails within two business days but are often much quicker.
Is this illegal? Could I get in trouble at my work/life/etc?
MuckRock is based entirely on existing legal infrastructure and public records laws at the local, state and federal levels. Such requests are a legal right of U.S. citizens and, in fact, citizens of most countries of the world. In rare instances, agencies might accidentally release legally protected data (even FOIA officers aren’t perfect!), in which case we will work with the requester to redact or remove legally sensitive information.
Do note, however, that public record requests, particularly those filed through MuckRock, are “public acts,” in the sense that other people can see what you requests, when you requested it, and any other information you put in the letter. This is true of almost all public records requests, whether they are filed through MuckRock or not, but MuckRock does make your requests more accessible once you remove any “embargo” you have placed on them. It is possible, though generally unlikely, that your request could result in personal repercussions at your work or in your personal life. For highly sensitive or private requests, we suggest you consult a lawyer and file privately.
Can I donate to MuckRock?
If you like what we do, the best way to support MuckRock is to buy a request and file yourself, or support a crowdfunding campaign for a request or project you like. If you’d like to just support the site more generally, we currently don’t have a general donation tool but donations can be sent via PayPal to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to:
411A Highland Ave
Somerville, MA 02144
MuckRock is a registered 501c3 (EIN 81-1485228), and donations to our general operations as well as to support MuckRock staff projects are currently tax deductible, as of Feb. 17, 2016. We truly appreciate your support no matter what format it comes in.
Do I have to use my real name? Can I submit anonymously?
We highly suggest you use your real, legal name, but we do not require it and understand that often times, there are very valid reasons for using a pseudonym, group name, or other moniker that is not your legal name. Our primary concern is that using a fake name can complicate appeals or lawsuits if a request comes to that.
Most agencies expect or require at least some name, but in some places, like Washington state, a name is not required.
If you'd like to keep your real name private, we highly suggest taking the following steps:
- When you register an account, do not ever enter your real name. While we can change usernames and you can edit your name in settings, it's best to just not have it there in the first place.
- If you're very concerned about privacy, create a new email address that is not connected to your other accounts using the same alias.
- Consider paying for your account with a prepaid credit card that you bought with cash, or pay with Bitcoin (note that Bitcoin cannot be used for recurring payments, such as a Professional account).
You can change the name associated with your account here.
Can I delete a request I filed?
Yes, please email email@example.com with the request or requests you’d like deleted. Please note that many government agencies keep records of the requests they receive, and may post them themselves or release this information to other entities. We cannot control this distribution by the government.
Can I use a MuckRock staffer’s name or say I am on staff?
Please do not do this without prior consent from us. In some rare cases, we will agree to help file a request on behalf of our organization if it fits with an editorial project we are interested in, but this is rare. If you’d like to partner on a project or suggest a request for us to file, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If I use MuckRock, do I get to take advantage of its preferred fee status?
No. Using MuckRock to file and track your requests is like using the UPS Store to mail and receive letters. It does not affect the fee category that the government assigns you to. Different governments have different criteria for preferred fee categories, and your request should explain how you personally meet those criteria regardless of whether or not you are using MuckRock. The only requesters who may take advantage of MuckRock’s preferred fee category are our staffers. If you contribute to MuckRock’s reporting and wish to say that you should be treated as staff, see above for how to do that.
Once someone submits a request, where does it end up? Does it go directly to the local/state/government agency?
For the vast majority of requests, submitting it instantly sends the request off to the best contact person we have listed for the appropriate agency in our database, usually via e-mail or fax. Occasionally, requests have to be checked over or submitted via snail mail, which can slow this process, but the requests all eventually go to the agency directly.
Can I submit a request via MuckRock and have it be private forever?
We generally discourage permanent embargos. Users that are part of organizational accounts can embargo their requests permanently. Professional users can ask for an embargoed request to be deleted, and we’ll remove it completely from the site.
How long do you hold onto the documents?
Digital documents we hold onto indefinitely: Hopefully as close to forever as we can, since they’re generally public documents paid for by the people.
Paper responses we keep on file for at least one year, and then plan to discard over time.
MuckRock offers tools to help crowdfund requests and public records projects that require funding to complete.
How can I crowdfund fees for a request I filed?
For any request that has fees associated with it, a “Crowdfund” button will appear at the top of the request page. Simply click it and follow the prompts.
How can I crowdfund a news or public records related project?
Project crowdfunding is currently in a private beta. If you’re interested in using this feature, please email email@example.com.
What happens if a crowdfunding campaign doesn’t meet its goal?
We will work with the agency to release a portion of the requested documents in exchange for the money that was raised. In the case of crowdfunded projects, we will work with the users who created the campaign to fund a portion of the proposed project.
If the agency or user is unable or unwilling to process part of the project or request, we will apply the funds to other public records fees.
What happens if a campaign raises more than its goal?
For projects, additional funding will be used to expand the scope and depth of the project. For records requests, crowdfunding campaigns that exceed their goals will be used to either expand the scope of the records request or be applied to other requests.
What fees are involved in crowdfunding campaigns?
There is a 15% fee added to crowdfunding campaigns that covers credit card and other processing costs.