Overview of The Privacy Act of 1974 (2020 Edition)

Overview of The Privacy Act of 1974 (2020 Edition)



The “Overview of the Privacy Act of 1974,” prepared by the Department of Justice’s Office of Privacy and Civil Liberties (OPCL), constitutes a discussion of various provisions of the Privacy Act, as addressed by court decisions in cases involving the 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. It is a comprehensive — but not exhaustive — resource that describes the current state of the law.

The Overview is not intended to provide policy guidance or create policy, as that role statutorily rests with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and where OMB has issued policy guidance on particular provisions of the Act, citation to such guidance is provided in the Overview. The 2020 edition of the Overview includes cases through April of 2020. It was published electronically in October 2020 and sent for print publication in November 2020. The online version will be a living document, and updated by OPCL in its discretion as appropriate.

OPCL is very pleased to provide this updated revision of the Overview, and can not have done so without the commitment of OPCL’s dedicated staff and the interagency Overview Working Group, who are recognized individually on the accompanying masthead. The organization and development of legal materials are the work product of OPCL, which is responsible for the Overview’s content.

Peter A. Winn
Acting Chief Privacy and Civil Liberties Officer
United States Department of Justice



    A. Legislative History
    B. Privacy Protection Study Commission
    C. Office of Management and Budget Guidance
    D. Computer Matching and Privacy Protection Act


    A. Extension of Privacy Act Remedies to Citizens of Designated Countries
    B. Attorney General Designations Related to the United States.-EU Data Protection and Privacy Agreement

        1. Covered Countries under the DPPA
        2. Designated Federal Agency or Component under the DPPA


    A. 5 United States.C. § 552a(a)(1) – Agency
    B. 5 United States.C. § 552a(a)(2) – Individual
    C. 5 United States.C. § 552a(a)(3) – Maintain
    D. 5 United States.C. § 552a(a)(4) – Record
    E. 5 United States.C. § 552a(a)(5) – System of Records


    A. The “No Disclosure without Consent” Rule
    B. Twelve Exceptions to the “No Disclosure without Consent” Rule

        1. 5 United States.C. § 552a(b)(1) – Need to Know within Agency
        2. 5 United States.C. § 552a(b)(2) – Required FOIA Disclosure
        3. 5 United States.C. § 552a(b)(3) – Routine Uses
        4. 5 United States.C. § 552a(b)(4) – Bureau of the Census
        5. 5 United States.C. § 552a(b)(5) – Statistical Research
        6. 5 United States.C. § 552a(b)(6) – National Archives
        7. 5 United States.C. § 552a(b)(7) – Law Enforcement Request
        8. 5 United States.C. § 552a(b)(8) – Health or Safety of an Individual
        9. 5 United States.C. § 552a(b)(9) – Congress
        10. 5 United States.C. § 552a(b)(10) – Government Accountability Office
        11. 5 United States.C. § 552a(b)(11) – Court Order
        12. 5 United States.C. § 552a(b)(12) – Debt Collection Act



    A. The Privacy Act and the FOIA
    B. FOIA/Privacy Act Interface Examples: Access
    C. Records Requests and Searches
    D. Third Party Interests



    A. 5 United States.C. § 552a(e)(1) – Maintain Only Relevant and Necessary Information
    B. 5 United States.C. § 552a(e)(2) – Collect Information, to the Greatest Extent Practicable, Directly from the Individual
    C. 5 United States.C. § 552a(e)(3) – Inform Individuals when Asking to Collect Information
    D. 5 United States.C. § 552a(e)(4) – Publish System of Records Notice
    E. 5 United States.C. § 552a(e)(5) – Maintain Accurate, Relevant, Timely, and Complete Records
    F. 5 United States.C. § 552a(e)(6) – Review Records Prior to Dissemination
    G. 5 United States.C. § 552a(e)(7) – Record Describing The Exercise of Rights Guaranteed by the First Amendment
    H. 5 United States.C. § 552a(e)(8) – Notice of Court Disclosure    
    I. 5 United States.C. § 552a(e)(9) – Rules of Conduct    
    J. 5 United States.C. § 552a(e)(10) Establish Safeguards    
    K. 5 United States.C. § 552a(e)(11) Publish New or Intended Use    


    A. 5 United States.C. § 552a(f)(1) – Establish Notification Procedures    
    B. 5 United States.C. § 552a(f)(2) – Define Time, Place, and Requirements for Identifying Individuals    
    C. 5 United States.C. § 552a(f)(3) – Establish Procedures for Disclosure of Records to Individuals    
    D. 5 United States.C. § 552a(f)(4) – Establish Procedures for Requests and Appeals    
    E. 5 United States.C. § 552a(f)(5) – Establish Copying Fees    


    A. 5 United States.C. § 552a(g)(1)(A) – Amendment Lawsuits    
    B. 5 United States.C. § 552a(g)(1)(B) – Access Lawsuits    
    C. 5 United States.C. § 552a(g)(1)(C) – Damages Lawsuits for Failure to Assure Fairness in Agency Determination    
    D. 5 United States.C. § 552a(g)(1)(D) – Damages Lawsuits For Failure to Comply with Other Privacy Act Provisions    
    E. Principles Applicable to Damages Lawsuits    

        1. Intentional or Willful Standard    
        2. Actual Damages    
        3. Limits on Injunctive Relief for Damages Claims    
        4. Additional Considerations for Damages Claims    

    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. 5 United States.C. § 552a(d)(5) – Special Exemption for Information Compiled for Civil Action    
    B. 5 United States.C. § 552a(j) – Two General Exemptions for Central Intelligence Agency and Criminal Law Enforcement
    C. 5 United States.C. § 552a(k) – Seven Specific Exemption Rules Agencies May Promulgate    

        1. 5 United States.C. § 552a(k)(1) – FOIA Exemption 1, Classified Information    
        2. 5 United States.C. § 552a(k)(2) – Investigative Law Enforcement Materials    
        3. 5 United States.C. § 552a(k)(3) – Secret Service Records    
        4. 5 United States.C. § 552a(k)(4) – Statistical Records    
        5. 5 United States.C. § 552a(k)(5) – Source-Identifying Investigatory Material Compiled for Determining Suitability, Eligibility, or Other Qualification    
        6. 5 United States.C. § 552a(k)(6) – Testing or Examination Materials    
        7. 5 United States.C. § 552a(k)(7) – Source-Identifying Armed Services Promotion Material    


    A. Exception for Disclosures Required by Federal Statute    
    B. Exception for Laws and Regulations in Effect before January 1, 1975    
    C. Federal, State, and Local Government Notice Requirements    
    D. Causes of Action    




Overview of the Privacy Act, 2020 Edition References

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