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Overview of The Privacy Act of 1974 (2015 Edition)

  ARCHIVED PAGE 

This page contains The Overview of the Privacy Act of1974, 2015 Edition. The Overivew 2015 Edition has since been superceded by the Privacy Act of 1974, 2020 Edition. The Overview 2020 Edition can be found here.

PREFACE 

The “Overview of the Privacy Act of 1974,” prepared by the Department of Justice’s Office of Privacy and Civil Liberties (OPCL), is a discussion of the Privacy Act's disclosure prohibition, its access and amendment provisions, and its agency recordkeeping requirements.  Tracking the provisions of the Act itself, the Overview provides reference to and legal analysis of court decisions interpreting the Act's provisions.  The Overview is not intended to provide policy guidance, as that role statutorily rests with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), 5 U.S.C. § 552a(v).  However, where OMB has issued policy guidance on particular provisions of the Act, citation to such guidance is provided in the Overview.  The 2015 edition of the Overview was issued electronically and sent for publication in July 2015 and includes cases through May 2014.

OPCL is very pleased to provide this updated revision of the Overview, and could not have done so without the commitment of OPCL's dedicated staff.  OPCL would particularly like to recognize: the written and editorial contributions of OPCL Senior Counsel Alex Wood, who carefully shepherded the publication of this edition from beginning to end; the written and editorial assistance of its volunteer interns Yasmin Emrani, Meryl Kanofsky, Kaiya Lyons, Craig Wesoly, Hannah Mayer, Danielle Prongay, and Kelly Singleton; the management of the publication process by its Program Specialist Pamela A. Moye; and last, but certainly not least, the invaluable written and editorial contributions of its former Director, Joo Y. Chung, who led this edition to completion before her departure from the Department of Justice.  This 2015 edition of the Overview is specifically dedicated to her.  Without the valuable assistance of these individuals, the completion of this endeavor would not have been possible. 

                                           Kristi Lane Scott   

                                           Acting Director, Office of Privacy and Civil Liberties

TABLE OF CONTENTS 

A. Agency
B. Individual
C. Maintain
D. Record
E. System of Records

  1. Disclosure: Subsection (b)
  2. Access and Amendment: Subsections (d)(1) and (d)(2)
  3. Other Aspects

A. The "No Disclosure Without Consent" Rule
B. Twelve Exceptions to the "No Disclosure Without Consent" Rule

  1. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(b)(1) ("need to know" within agency)
  2. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(b)(2) (required FOIA disclosure)
  3. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(b)(3) (routine uses)
  4. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(b)(4) (Bureau of the Census)
  5. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(b)(5) (statistical research)
  6. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(b)(6) (National Archives)
  7. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(b)(7) (law enforcement request)
  8. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(b)(8) (health or safety of an individual)
  9. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(b)(9) (Congress)
  10. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(b)(10) (General Accounting Office)
  11. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(b)(11) (court order)
  12. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(b)(12) (Debt Collection Act)

A. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(e)(1)
B. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(e)(2)
C. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(e)(3)
D. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(e)(4)
E. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(e)(5)
F. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(e)(6)
G. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(e)(7)
H. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(e)(8)
I. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(e)(9)
J. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(e)(10)
K. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(e)(11)

A. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(f)(1)
B. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(f)(2)
C. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(f)(3)
D. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(f)(4)
E. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(f)(5)

A. Amendment Lawsuits under 5 U.S.C. § 552a(g)(1)(A)

  1. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies 
  2. Court Review

B. Access Lawsuits under 5 U.S.C. § 552a(g)(1)(B)
C. Damages Lawsuits under 5 U.S.C. § 552a(g)(1)(C)
D. Damages Lawsuits under 5 U.S.C. § 552a(g)(1)(D)
E. Principles Applicable to Damages Lawsuits

  1. Intentional/Willful Standard
  2. Actual Damages

F. Principles Applicable to All Privacy Act Civil Actions

  1. Attorney Fees and Costs
  2. Jurisdiction and Venue
  3. Statute of Limitations
  4. Jury Trial

A. One Special Exemption -- 5 U.S.C. § 552a(d)(5)
B. Two General Exemptions -- 5 U.S.C. § 552a(j)(1) and (j)(2)
C. Seven Specific Exemptions -- 5 U.S.C. § 552a(k)

  1. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(k)(1)
  2. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(k)(2)
  3. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(k)(3)
  4. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(k)(4)
  5. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(k)(5)
  6. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(k)(6)
  7. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(k)(7)

 

References

Def. Priv. Bd., Advisory Opinions No. 4, Corrections of Military Records Under the Privacy Act, in Judge Advocate General’s School, U.S. Army, JA 235, Government Information Practices—Casebook, A-13 (March 2000)

Memorandum from Eric Holder, Attorney General, for Dept. of Justice Heads of Exec. Dept. & Agencies, The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (Mar. 19, 2009)

Memorandum from Robert P. Bedell, Deputy Administrator, Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, for the Senior Agency Officials for Information Resource Management, Privacy Act Guidance - Update (May 24, 1985)

Memorandum on Privacy and Personal Information in Federal Records, 34 Weekly Comp. Pres. Doc. 870 (May 14, 1998)

Nat’l Archive, Privacy Act Issuances, https://www.govinfo.gov/app/collection/PAI/

Nat'l Institute of Standards & Technology, Spec. Pub. 800-53, Rev. 5, Security and Privacy Controls for Federal Information Systems and Organizations (2020), https://csrc.nist.gov/publications/detail/sp/800-53/rev-5/final

Off. of Mgmt. & Budget, Exec. Off. of the President, Final Guidance Interpreting the Provisions of Public Law 100-503, the Computer Matching and Privacy Protection Act of 1988, 54 Fed. Reg. 25,818 (June 19, 1989)

Off. of Mgmt. & Budget, Exec. Off. of the President, Guidance on the Privacy Act Implication of “Call Detail” Programs to Manage Employees’ Use of the Government’s Telecommunications Systems, 52 Fed. Reg. 12,990 (April 20, 1987)

Off. of Mgmt. & Budget, Exec. Off. of the President, Guidelines on the Relationship of the Debt Collection Act of 1982 to the Privacy Act of 1974, 48 Fed. Reg. 1,556 (April 11, 1983)

Off. of Mgmt. & Budget, Exec. Off. of the President, Implementation of the Privacy Act of 1974 Supplementary Guidance, 40 Fed. Reg. 56,741 (Dec. 4, 1975)

Off. of Mgmt. & Budget, Exec. Off. of the President, OMB Circular No. A–108, Federal Agency Responsibilities for Review, Reporting, and Publication Under the Privacy Act (Dec. 23, 2016) (notice of availability published at 81 Fed. Reg. 94,424)

Off. of Mgmt. & Budget, Exec. Off. of the President, OMB Circular No. A–130, Managing Information as a Strategic Resource (July 28, 2016) (notice of availability published at 81 Fed. Reg. 49,689)

Office of Mgmt. & Budget, Exec. Office of the President, Privacy Act Implementation: Guidelines and Responsibilities, 40 Fed. Reg. 28,948 (July 9, 1975) 

Off. of Mgmt. & Budget, Exec. Off. of the President, The Computer Matching and Privacy Protection Amendments of 1990 and The Privacy Act of 1974, 56 Fed. Reg. 18,599 (Apr. 23, 1991)

Office of Mgmt. & Budget, Exec. Office of the President, Instructions on Complying with President's Memorandum of May 14, 1998, "Privacy and Personal Information in Federal Records" (Jan. 7, 1999)

Presidential Memorandum, Freedom of Information Act, 74 Fed. Reg. 4,683 (Jan. 26, 2009)

S Comm. on Gov't Operations. & H.R. Comm. on Gov't. Operations, 94th Cong., Legislative History of the Privacy Act of 1974 S. 3418 (Public Law 93-579): Source Book on Privacy (Comm. Print 1976)

U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Off. of Info. Pol’y, FOIA Counselor: Questions and Answers, in FOIA Update, Vol. VII, No. 1, at 6, https://www.justice.gov/oip/foia_updates/Vol_VII_1/page5.htm

U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Off. of Info. Pol’y, FOIA Counselor: Questions and Answers, in FOIA Update, Vol. V, No. 3, https://www.justice.gov/oip/foia_updates/Vol_V_3/page2.htm

U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Off. of Info. Pol’y, OIP Guidance: “Agency Records” vs. “Personal Records,” in FOIA Update, Vol. V, No. 4, https://www.justice.gov/oip/foia_updates/Vol_V_4/page5.htm.

U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Off. of Info. Pol’y, OIP Guidance: Congressional Access Under FOIA, in FOIA Update, Vol. V, No. 1, https://www.justice.gov/oip/foia_updates/Vol_V_1/page3.htm

U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Off. of Info. Pol’y, OIP Guidance: President Obama's FOIA Memorandum and Attorney General Holder's FOIA Guidelines, https://www.justice.gov/oip/blog/foia-post-2009-creating-new-era-open-government

U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Off. of Info. Pol’y, President Issues Privacy Act-Related Memorandum to All Federal Agencies, in FOIA Update, Vol. XIX, No. 2, https://www.justice.gov/oip/blog/foia-update-president-issues-privacy-act-related-memorandum-all-federal-agencies

U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Off. of Info. Pol’y, Privacy Protections Under the Supreme Court’s Reporters Committee Decision, in FOIA Update,  Vol. X, No. 2, https://www.justice.gov/oip/foia_updates/Vol_X_2/page3.html

U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Off. of Info. Pol’y, Use of “Cut-Off” Dates for FOIA Searches, FOIA Post (May 6, 2004), https://www.justice.gov/oip/foiapost/2004foiapost14.htm

U.S. Priv. Prot. Study Commission, Personal Privacy in an Information Society (1977)

Updated February 25, 2021