Skip to main content

Primary tabs

EOUSA Resource Manual

142. Judicial Remedies and Penalties for Violating the Privacy Act

The Act specifically provides civil remedies, 5 U.S.C. Sec. 552a(g), including damages, and criminal penalties, 5 U.S.C. Sec. 552a(i), for violations of the Act.

The civil action provisions are premised on agency violations of the Act or agency regulations promulgated thereunder.

An individual claiming such a violation by the agency may bring the civil action in a federal district court. If the individual substantially prevails, the court may assess reasonable attorney fees and other litigation costs against the agency. In addition, the court may direct the agency to grant the plaintiff access to his/her records, and when appropriate direct the agency to amend or correct its records subject to the Act.

Actual damages may be awarded to the plaintiff for intentional or willful refusal by the agency to comply with the Act.

In the case of "criminal violations" of the Act (Section 3 of the Act, 5 U.S.C. Sec. 552a(i) limits these so-called penalties to misdemeanors), an officer or employee of an agency may be fined up to $5,000 for:

  1. Knowingly and willfully disclosing individually identifiable information which is prohibited from such disclosure by the Act or by agency regulations; or
  2. Willfully maintaining a system of records without having published a notice in the Federal Register of the existence of that system of records.

In addition, an individual may be fined up to $5,000 for knowingly and willfully requesting or gaining access to a record about an individual under false pretenses.

While the Act does not establish a time limit for prosecutions for violation of the criminal penalties provision of the Act, it does limit the bringing of civil action to two years from the date on which the cause of action arose. See 5 U.S.C. Sec. 552a(g)(5). However, the time limit for filing a civil action may be tolled for material and willful misrepresentation by the agency of any information which is required to be disclosed, if the misrepresentation is material to the liability of the agency.

A civil action may be filed in the U.S. District Court in the district where the requester resides or has his/her principal place of business; in which the agency records are located; or in the District of Columbia.

[cited in USAM 3-17.220]