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Privacy Act Overview

The Privacy Act of 1974, Title 5, United States Code, Section 552a, protects against an invasion of privacy through the misuse of personal information by government agencies. The Act allows citizens to determine how records are collected, maintained, used, and disseminated by the federal government. It also provides provisions for an individual to inspect, copy, and correct personal information the government is maintaining on them.

The Privacy Act applies to personal information held by agencies in the executive branch of the federal government, such as the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Agencies subject to the Freedom of Information Act are also subject to the Privacy Act. Generally, the Act does not apply to state and local governments, or private companies, unless the entities are involved in a computer matching program with the federal government, or are under contract to operate a Privacy Act system of records for an agency of the federal government. While any person may request records under the Freedom of Information Act, only U.S. citizens and aliens lawfully admitted for permanent residence may request their personal records under the Privacy Act.

Records subject to the Privacy Act are those records concerning individuals maintained in a system of records. A record contains individually identifiable material, such as social security numbers, medical history, employment history, financial data, criminal history, etc. A system of records is a group of records under the control of an agency from which information is retrieved by the name of the individual, or by some other identifying number or symbol. Records kept on individuals that are not retrievable in this way are not subject to the Privacy Act; however, this type of information can be requested under the Freedom of Information Act.

Under the provisions of the Privacy Act, an agency must allow individuals to see and copy records about themselves. Individuals must also have the opportunity to amend any information in the records that is not timely, accurate, relevant, or complete. Agencies must publish notices in the Federal Register describing each system of records they maintain. This provision prevents the keeping of secret record systems. Agencies may not maintain information on individuals about how they exercise their First Amendment rights, unless maintenance of that information is specifically authorized by statute or relates to a law enforcement activity.

 

Disclosures

The Privacy Act limits and defines the disclosure of personal information by an agency. Agencies may not disclose Privacy Act records to any person, or to another agency, without the written consent of the individual to whom the record pertains except if the record is disclosed:

  1. to officers and employees of the agency which maintains the record who have a need for the record in the performance of their duties;
  2. as required under the Freedom of Information Act;
  3. in accordance with a "routine use" as defined in subsection (a)(7) and described in subsection (e)(4)(D) of the Privacy Act;
  4. to the Census Bureau for the purposes of planning or carrying out a census or survey in accordance with Title 13;
  5. to an individual who provides written assurance that the record will be used only for statistical research, and it is provided in a way that is not individually identifiable;
  6. to the National Archives and Records Administration if the record is historically significant;
  7. to another agency or governmental instrument within the United States for a civil or criminal law enforcement activity;
  8. to a person pursuant to a showing of compelling circumstances affecting the health or safety of an individual;
  9. to either House of Congress, or any committee or subcommittee thereof;
  10. to the Comptroller General in the course of the performance of the duties of the General Accounting Office;
  11. pursuant to the order of a court of competent jurisdiction; or
  12. to a consumer reporting agency in accordance with section 3711(f) of Title 31.

Except for disclosures made under (1) and (2) listed above, agencies must keep an accounting of the date, nature, and purpose of each disclosure of a Privacy Act record to any person or to another agency, and the name and address of the person or agency to whom the disclosure is made.

 

Privacy Act Statement

Agency forms used to collect Privacy Act information must inform the individual who is supplying the requested information the following:

  1. the authority (statute, Executive Order, etc.) which authorizes the solicitation of the information and whether disclosure of the information is mandatory or voluntary;
  2. the principal purpose or purposes for which the information is intended to be used;
  3. the routine uses which may be made of the information; and
  4. the effects on the individual, if any, for failure to provide all or any part of the requested information.

 

System Notices

Agencies must publish system notices in the Federal Register. System notices describe the systems of records agencies have established, including the following information:

  1. Name and location of the system;
  2. the categories of individuals on whom records are maintained;
  3. the types of records maintained;
  4. each routine use;
  5. retrievability, storage, and access controls for the system;
  6. the title and business address of the agency official who is responsible for the system;
  7. how an individual can be notified if the system contains a record on him/her;
  8. how an individual can access or amend the record; and
  9. the categories of sources of records in the system.

At least 30 days prior to the implementation of a new routine use for a system of records, an agency must publish notice of the proposed routine use in the Federal Register and allow for public comment.

 

Violations

Violations of the provisions of the Privacy Act are enforceable through legal action, and criminal and civil penalties may apply. It is a crime to knowingly and willfully request or obtain records concerning an individual from an agency under false pretenses. A request under the Privacy Act can only be made by the individual who is the subject of the requested records (except for parents of minors or legal guardians).

 

Exemptions

Although the Privacy Act does offer exemptions from disclosure, they are rarely used. There are two general exemptions - one for records maintained by the Central Intelligence Agency, and the second for records relating to law enforcement activities. There are seven specific exemptions listed in the Privacy Act.

Fees and Time Limits

Fees can be charged under the Privacy Act for the cost of reproducing records only. Typically, no fee is assessed for a Privacy Act request.

Unlike the Freedom of Information Act, there is no time limit for an agency to respond to a Privacy Act request. However, the Nevada Field Office strives to meet a 30-day response time. Many requests can be fulfilled within 10 days. There is a 10-day time limit when an individual requests to amend their records.

 

HOW TO MAKE A PRIVACY ACT REQUEST WITH THE NEVADA FIELD OFFICE

Privacy Act requests can be submitted to the NNSA/Service Center in writing at the following address:

Ms. Carolyn A. Becknell
Privacy Act Officer
NNSA Service Center
Office of Public Affairs
P.O. Box 5400
Albuquerque, NM 87185-5400
 

In your letter, cite the Privacy Act and describe the records you are seeking as clearly as possible. If you were an employee, for example, providing dates of employment are helpful in locating records. Sign your letter and provide two copies of identification, one of which shows your signature (a copy of your driver’s license). Notarized statements of your identity are also acceptable as proof of your identification. Also provide the Social Security number, date of birth, and place of birth. If you are a surviving relative seeking Privacy Act records, you must also submit a copy of the death certificate and an PDF icon  Affidavit of Surviving Relative [ PDF, 43KB ]

For further information on how to submit a Privacy Act request to the DOE, refer to:

PDF icon  Title 10, Code of Federal Regulations, Section 1008 [ PDF, 83KB ]

 

RADIATION EXPOSURE HISTORY

Radiation Exposure Histories are available upon request for those individuals who have worked at the Nevada National Security Site or the Pacific Proving Grounds, including members of the armed services. Requests for Radiation Exposure Histories can be made by completing form NV-192:

PDF icon  Request for Report of Radiation Exposure History [ PDF, 81KB ]

Mail the completed form to the following address:

U.S. Department of Energy
Attn: Dosimetry Research Project, M/S 401
NSTec
P.O. Box 98521
Las Vegas, NV 89193-8521

 

HUMAN RADIATION EXPERIMENTS

The Nuclear Testing Archive maintains the complete DOE Human Radiation Experiments collection. These documents are available in full text retrieval through the DOE Openness: Human Radiation Experiments site. The online database does not contain names of individuals experimented on. The Nuclear Testing Archive has limited name search capability for both the human radiation experiments and prisoner experimentation documents. Privacy Act requests for name searches can be requested by writing to the FOIA/PA Officer for the NNSA/Service Center.

 

RADIATION EXPOSURE COMPENSATION ACT

Information on the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, Public Law (P.L.) 101-426 dated October 15, 1990; amended by P.L. 101-510 on November 5, 1990; amended by P.L. 102-486 on October 24, 1992, can be obtained by contacting the following address:

U.S. Department of Justice
Radiation Exposure Compensation Program
P.O. Box 146, Ben Franklin Station
Washington, D.C. 20044-0146
1-800-729-7327 (toll-free call)

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Date Last Modified: February 20, 2014