Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Domestic Surveillance: FBI Files

On this Martin Luther King holiday, it's appropriate to recall the controversial surveillance of the civil rights leader by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the 1960s. From 1963 to his death in 1968, the FBI wiretapped King and conducted a intensive campaign to discredit him. The Bureau amassed a huge amount of material on King and almost 17,000 pages of his file have been made public through the Freedom of Information Act.

The FBI's FOIA website displays only about 200 pages of information -- essentially a 1977 report on the government's surveillance of King and its suspected role in his assassination. (But you can find the complete file in the Internet Archive.) In addition to the King document, the site provides access to surveillance files on many other celebrities, including Frank Sinatra, John Lennon, Cesar Chavez, Marilyn Monroe and Albert Einstein.

Ever wonder if the FBI has a file on you? Through FOIA, you can request a copy of your file or that of a deceased relative. The FBI's instructions are here. For help composing a FOIA request, try the Get My FBI File and Get Grandpa's FBI File web sites.