Guide to FOIA at SSA
The FOIA allows members of the public to request records from Federal agencies. The Federal government established FOIA to promote transparency and prevent agencies from having secret policies.
This guide explains how to request information and records from us, information we cannot disclose, and fees involved with a request.
We prepare many documents for public distribution through our website. We provide:
Please visit our Electronic FOIA Reading Room for information that might be responsive to your request.
Our Open Government portal helps point the public to our datasets and information to help answer your questions about our programs and operations.
Check these sources prior to making a FOIA request because we do not process requests for public information materials as Freedom of Information Act requests.
The FOIA does not require agencies to disclose all records. Some examples of records we may not disclose are:
- Classified records;
- Information that is confidential by law;
- Internal personnel rules;
- Personal information about living people;
- Records of investigations; or
- Trade secrets or confidential financial information.
Your Own Record
If you are requesting your own records, we will process your request under the Privacy Act and FOIA.
Someone Else’s Records
If you are requesting another living person’s record, you will need the person’s written consent for us to disclose the record to you. In these cases, send your request, with the signed consent, to your local Social Security office.
Records Needed for a Social Security Benefit Application
If you need your records regarding your claim for Social Security benefits, or if you are a representative of someone pursuing a claim for Social Security benefits, send your request to your local Social Security office.
We try to handle your request within 20 days from the date we receive it. It may take longer depending on the difficulty of finding the record and how much other work we have. We process requests on a “first in, first out” basis using the following categories:
Requests where the receiving office has all the information it needs for the answer. These requests will take the least amount of time to process.
Requests that often require the receiving office to obtain more information from another SSA office.
Requests that require:
- More information or records from another SSA office or another government office;
- A voluminous number of records, or
- Additional decisions on releasing records from these offices.
These requests take the longest to answer.
We provide expedited handling when the request:
- Involves an imminent threat to a person’s life or physical safety, or
- Is made by a member of the media to obtain information that the public has an urgent need to know and the records would cover actual or alleged Federal Government activity.
If you think we should expedite your request, please explain your reasons fully in your request. Within 10 days from the date of your request, we will decide whether we will expedite it and notify you of our decision.
Sometimes we cannot disclose some or all of the records you requested. When we cannot disclose some or all of the records you requested, we will send you a written denial, explaining our reason(s) and your appeal rights.
If you disagree with our decision, you may request a review. Mail your appeal within 30 days after you receive this letter to the Executive Director for the Office of Privacy and Disclosure, Social Security Administration, 617 Altmeyer Building, 6401 Security Boulevard, Baltimore, Maryland 21235. Mark the envelope “Freedom of Information Appeal.”