Lawsuits Against the Government Relating to a Bill To Amend the Privacy Act of 1974

GGD-77-21: Published: May 6, 1977. Publicly Released: May 6, 1977.

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As of June 1, 1976, 143 lawsuits were pending against the Government or its employees for activities, such as trespass without consent, listed in the proposed House bill 12039, which would have amended the Privacy Act of 1974.

This bill, which did not pass the 94th Congress, would have required that persons be informed that they were subjects of these programs or activities and advised of, among other matters, their rights under the Freedom of Information and Privacy Acts. Of the 143 pending lawsuits, 87 charged interception of oral or written communication without a search warrant or consent; 98 involved search, physical intrusion, or trespass without a search warrant or consent; and 13 involved a subject of a file or index in connection with operations of CHAOS, COINTELPRO, or the Special Service Staff. The potential liability of the United States with respect to these lawsuits cannot be assessed, especially with regard to liability arising out of or relating to activities listed in the bill. Private attorneys from 20 law firms were retained by the Department of Justice to represent 52 defendants in eight lawsuits. Cost data are not available on the use of Department of Justice defense attorneys. The Department neither recoups attorneys' fees for representing defendants who have judgments passed against them nor recovers monetary damages from defendants if the Government is found liable.

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