The Privacy Act of 1974, as amended at 5 U.S.C. 552a, protects records that can be retrieved from a system of records by personal identifiers such as a name, social security number, or other identifying number or symbol. (A system of records is any grouping of information about an individual under the control of a Federal agency from which information is retrievable by personal identifiers).

An individual is entitled to access to his or her records and to request correction of these records by stating the reasons for such actions with supporting justification showing how the record is untimely, incomplete, inaccurate or irrelevant. The Privacy Act prohibits disclosure of these records without written individual consent unless one of the twelve disclosure exceptions enumerated in the Act applies. These records are held in Privacy Act systems of records. A notice of any such system is published in the Federal Register. These notices identify the legal authority for collecting and storing the records, individuals about whom records will be collected, what kinds of information will be collected, and how the records will be used (See http://www.socialsecurity.gov/foia/bluebook/toc.htm).

The Privacy Act binds only Federal Executive Branch agencies, and covers only a system of records in the possession and control of Federal agencies. Inquiries concerning the Privacy Act should be directed to (410) 965-1727.

The Freedom of Information Act

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), as amended at 5 U.S.C.552, is a disclosure statute that requires Federal Executive Branch agencies to make records available to the public.

The intent of the FOIA is to prevent agencies from having “secret law” and to make the government accountable to the public for its actions. FOIA requires agencies to publish in the Federal Register statements of its organizations, functions, rules, procedures, general policy, and any changes, and how to get information. In addition, agencies must index and make available for public inspection and copying statements of policy, manuals and instructions, and final opinions and orders in cases, as well as the indexes.

FOIA applies to all records created or received by the agency and in its possession or under its control. Agencies must make records available to the public on request, unless they fall within one of the nine statutory exemptions. (See http://www.socialsecurity.gov/foia/).