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 to FOIA Requests at SSA explains how to request information and records from us, details information that we can not disclose, and outlines the fees involved with a request.

How to Search for Public Information before Making A Request

SSA prepares many documents for public distribution through its website - such as leaflets about our benefits programs, press releases, reports, and answers to frequently asked questions.

Also, the information you are requesting may also be located in our Electronic FOIA Reading Room or in our recent FOIA releases section.

Lastly, we designed SSA’s Open Government portal to help point the public to SSA datasets and information that may 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.

Records We May Not Release

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 Request and the Privacy Act

Your Own Record
If you are requesting your own record(s), we will process your request under the Privacy Act as well as the under FOIA.

Someone Else’s Records
If you are requesting another living person’s record, you need the person’s written consent 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 in connection with 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.

Learn more about SSA's commitment to Privacy

The FOIA Process at SSA

Tab 1

We try to handle your request within 20 days from the date we receive it. Sometimes it may take us 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:

Simple 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.

These requests often require the receiving office to obtain more information from another SSA office(s).


Requests that require:

  • More information or records from another SSA office or another government office(s);
  • a voluminous amount of records, or
  • Additional decisions on releasing records from these offices.

These requests take the longest to answer.

Tab 2

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.

Tab 3

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.”