After being investigated for his blog post, Cory Doctorow sent this FOIA request to the FBI

Originally published at:


I hope that the FBI shows its “appreciation” to whoever made this frivolous report against Cory for all the extra paperwork they now have to do.


This story got me wondering if American rights even apply to him (or anyone) as a non-American. It turns out they do, once an alien is legally on US soil. So I wonder how the FOI request works when the requestor is not a citizen nor a resident. Can a visitor file an FOI request in the USA? Perhaps a public interest group or journalists can make the request.

TLDR, but here is my source:

Wikipedia says Cory is Canadian-British and no mention of American nationality.

If he can’t do it his attorney can on his behalf.


Sure, but it still seems odd that the USA would allow its laundry to be aired on demand by foreigners. Or that any other country would in similar situations. I expected it to be citizens only.

I suppose the G-man also contacted the author of the article that Doctorow summarized? And how many other bloggers or aggregators might have also referenced that article?

Here’s a specific answer:

“Any person” can file a FOIA request, including U.S. citizens, foreign nationals, organizations, associations, and universities.


I suppose that’s what happens when a country that hypes itself as an open society and an immigrant nation actually tries to live up to those ideals.


It isn’t as if they are going to send you classified documents.



I’m a “resident alien” Canadian living in the US on a work visa. Not only do the laws apply to me, but I am required to pay into Medicare and Social Security even though I can legally receive neither. Moreover, there are complex tax questions regarding any income I may have from outside the US now that I am a resident here.

I actually LOL’d at the notion that somehow, US law would not apply to me. :slight_smile:


Wait till the FBI finds out about @beschizza’s safecracking career.


As you point out, the fact that a state requires you to comply with its laws does not necessarily mean that you get to benefit from its protections. So, there’s nothing inherently implausible in a polity having laws which can only be used by citizens.

There is for example, I believe, a degree of debate about the extent to which US constitutional protections apply to non-citizens, at least those not resident in the United States.

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Things enumerated as “rights” are considered " endowed by their creator". So “rights” are more or less considered something akin to natural law. Thus it applies to everyone. The laws just enumerate and protect those rights from the government.

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No-one outside of those authorized would normally see those, whether foreign or domestic, so I’m not sure how that figures in.

Non-classified info has its own pitfalls. Governments don’t know what will be made of it.

That would be the golden ticket, eh? Once landed you can do anything you want! Anything! Bend it like a diplomat. :innocent:

My second sentence does describe your situation as you are on US soil, while Cory is not resident.*

Update: * it has been pointed out to me that Cory lives in California, so I have got off on the wrong foot here. The hazards of a quick google. Substitute “non-American”.

Cory lives in Burbank, CA.


A general rule of thumb for US rights and access is that it extends to any person in the country. There are only a relatively small number of things that are citizen specific, usually in the political or defense contracting realms. Outside of the borders all of the lines get far more murky.

There’s only a fringe debate, often engaged strictly to allow terrible government actors to get away with things. Most of the core difference between person, citizen and resident were settled in a rash of cases in the 40s and 70s. An example in regards to speech rights from 1945 found that you could use otherwise protected speech against someone seeking to enter the country, but not once they were here.

“the Bill of Rights is a futile authority for the alien seeking admission for the first time to these shores. But once an alien lawfully enters and resides in this country he becomes invested with the rights guaranteed by the Constitution to all people within our borders.”

Most of the cases are similar.

They don’t, but that was one of the philosophical underpinnings of FOIA initially. It is meant to be a check that allows the people to monitor the government. It grew out of a series of scandals around the US intelligence agencies, that by their very nature would frequently involve foreign nationals. The risks were always known, but were meant to serve as a counterweight to other risks.


Human rights apply to humans.


Different thing.

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I’ve been meaning to file a FOIA request since I was in high school, but never did it. During the winter of 1988, during my senior year in high school, I got a call from a friend, who had received a call from a mutual friend in the army. This mutual friend was being interviewed for a security clearance and the first question these DIA guys asked him is whether he knew me. That blew my mind! I had been involved in a legal battle over my school’s attempt to expel students who didn’t rise for the “flag salute,” but that wasn’t enough, or so I thought, to draw that kind of attention from the Feds. I really should find out what they had/have on me.

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