Can you EVER get a useful FBI or CIA file about a living person without a privacy waiver?
Guessing the answer is no, but are there any circumstances where it’s worth trying while the subject is still alive?
You’ll practically never get anything from CIA with ot without a privacy waiver. FBI can release files about living people if there is a significant public interest in the release.
So how would I prove a significant public interest? What’s the standard?
For a thorough discussion of this issue, I would recommend DOJ’s Guide to the FOIA, specifically Exemption 7(C): https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/oip/legacy/2014/07/23/exemption7c.pdf#p21.
There is a slightly roundabout way that works in certain situations, at least with the FBI. Namely, if the person you’re interested in is a prominent part of some organization - an activist group, a corporation, even a band. (See Muckrock’s article on the FBI’s infamous KISS file: https://www.muckrock.com/news/archives/2015/oct/15/fbi-files-kiss/. All original members of KISS are still alive). The FBI will (y’know, usually) release files on organizations/groups that will contain info on living individuals.
To be clear: There would have to be separate investigative file on the group/organization, right? I can’t just request a file on the “organization” if there’s no file just because I’m hoping to get the file of an individual who was part of said organization, right? Can the organization be a company/corporation, or does it have to be a looser affiliation?
Right, there would have to be an FBI file on the group/organization, and the person you’re interested in would have to be (or have been) a prominent part of that group (for example, not just a rank-and-file member of a political organization). The FBI has files on lots of different types of groups - everything from animal-rights organizations to rock bands to street gangs to the NRA. If you’re interested in info about a person who was a major part of any organization, it’s worth filing a request for that group’s file because there might be something about that individual in there (no guarantees, of course). And the FBI might not have a file on that group, but you never know until you file....
How broad can a FOIA request to the FBI be? I have an idea for an event that would have been on their radar involving some of the people I want to look up…would asking for a file on a “event” worked if I’m specific enough?