The Privacy Act

Records of individuals are both public and protected under the Privacy Act. The act allows a person to:

  • view his or her records kept by the federal government;
  • correct the records; and
  • ascertain how the information in the record is used.

The Privacy Act prohibits the government from misusing the information it keeps and maintaining "secret" records on an individual.

Under the Privacy Act, a document is a "record" if:

  • it contains personal information;
  • it can be found under the person's name or Social Security number; and
  • it is under a government agency's control.

How do I access records under the Privacy Act?

You make a written request to the agency. Most government agencies have forms especially created for the request. You may have to pay for the copying cost of the records.

The agency I have requested records from says that none exist with my name or Social Security number. Is there another way to search?

No. If records cannot be accessed by your name or Social Security number, then any documents, if they do exist, are not "records" for the purposes of the Privacy Act.

How do I make a correction to the records?

Ask the agency what they require for a correction. For instance, if your name is misspelled, a birth certificate may be required.

TIP: Always ask if you need to bring a copy, a notarized copy or an original of the information the agency requested in order to make the correction.

I work for a federal agency. Can I keep my employment records private?

Not entirely. Your name, position, salary and years of service are public information.

What are my rights if private information has been used in a way that adversely affects me?

You can sue the agency that has misused the records. Damages, including punitive damages, and attorney's fees may be recovered if you prevail.

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