Overview of The Privacy Act of 1974 (2015 Edition)

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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


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)
Updated October 14, 2020

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