Your Right to Privacy: A Basic Guide to Legal Rights in an Information Society

By Evan Hendricks; Trudy Hayden et al. | Go to book overview

III
Correction of Government Records

Is there any way for a person to correct or amend agency records?

Yes. The Privacy Act requires that each agency maintaining a system of records shall permit a person to request amendment of a record pertaining to that individual.1 (The Freedom of Information Act, however, contains only access provisions and does not afford an individual any right to correct or amend the information in the file.) This provision applies to all federal executive agencies, independent regulatory, agencies, and private contractors that operate systems of records for any agency to accomplish this function.2 It pertains only to records about the individual seeking the amendment and only if such a record is maintained in an agency system of records. A system of records means any group of records from which information is retrieved by reference to the name or other identifying symbol of the individual.3 An individual, under the terms of the Privacy Act, must be a United States citizen or a permanent resident alien.4

On what grounds may a person seek correction or amendment of agency records?

The Privacy Act requires that agencies maintain records that are accurate, relevant, timely, and complete.5 A person may request amendment of any record which fails to satisfy one or more of those standards.6 The act does not define the terms, but it provides some clues. In describing the recordkeeping requirements imposed on the federal agencies, the Privacy Act says they shall "maintain all records which are used by the agency in making any determination about any individual with such accuracy, relevance, timeliness and completeness, as is reasonably necessary to assure fairness to the individual in the determination."7 The meaning of relevance is somewhat further described by the requirement that each agency "maintain in its records only such information about an individual as is relevant and necessary to accomplish a purpose of the agency...."8 The 'relevance" and the "com-

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