By John V. Berry, Esq., www.berrylegal.com
It is often the case that we have clients that are seeking information about their own personal records maintained by a federal agency. These requests can relate to a former employee’s Official Personnel Folder, an administrative investigation, security clearance records, and all sorts of other types of information that involve them. We are often
retained to assist client in making such requests. This article is general in nature and an individual should consult an attorney familiar with the Privacy Act prior to making a request.
What is the Privacy Act?
The Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552(a) prohibits federal agencies from releasing information contained in their records about any person unless an exception exists. One such exception is for individuals to be able to obtain a copy of their own records. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(d)(1). The Privacy Act provides specific individuals a method of requesting documents that are personal to them, much like the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), provides access to non-personal documents for all individuals. The Department of Justice has published a detailed report on the Privacy Act which can be found here.
One requested, the federal agency must gather the documentation requested. The Privacy Act is different than FOIA, because it does not permit agencies to charge for the time it takes to search for requested records, but an individual can be charged with copying fees. Sometimes, it can be helpful to request the information sought under both the Privacy and FOIA, depending on the situation.
What Information can be Requested?
There are numerous documents that an individual can request that contains information about themselves. The Privacy Act, however, does not require agencies to create documents that do not exist. Some examples of information that can be requested (many other examples exist):
1.Background Investigation reports
2.JPAS Incident report records
3.Security clearance records
5.Office Personnel Folder
Format of the Request
If the information sought is significant, an individual should likely have counsel to request such documents. The general requirements (these can vary by agency) to obtain documentation under the Privacy Act can include:
1. Individual’s Full name
2. Individual’s Date and Place of Birth
3. Individual’s Social Security Number
4. The Mailing / Email Address for Return of Material
6. A Statement About the Information that the Individual is Requesting (specificity is important)
7. Usually, you need to include a sworn declaration.
8. Photocopies of identity documents.
9. Social Security Number
Requirements vary (and often change), so a lawyer familiar with Privacy Act requests should be consulted before submissions.
If you need assistance in preparing a Privacy Act request, please contact our office at (703) 668-0070 or at www.berrylegal.com to schedule a consultation. Please also visit and like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BerryBerryPllc.