Views on S. 586, a Bill To Amend the Privacy Act of 1974

B-130441: Published: Jun 11, 1981. Publicly Released: Jun 4, 1985.

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Proposed legislation to amend the Privacy Act of 1974 would add several new provisions to the act that would: (1) place limits on the kinds of information agencies provide to requesters; (2) limit the number of Privacy Act requests an individual may make to an agency each year; (3) establish a minimum charge of $10.00 for materials provided to individuals under the act; (4) redefine the law enforcement exemption; and (5) standardize the format for responding to requests for law enforcement records. Clarification is needed about the types of records covered in the section of the bill which would eliminate the need for agencies to provide requesters with copies of public records. GAO endorses the proposed requirement for the provision of updated material in an individual's file; however, it questions the need for a ceiling on the number of Privacy Act requests that may be made during a given year. GAO stated that the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs should: (1) consider whether the abuses that the bill is designed to address could be handled without imposing a ceiling on the number of authorized inquiries; (2) provide specific guidance on the circumstances where waiver of the limitation on inquiries would be appropriate; (3) consider whether the prohibition against exempting law enforcement material from disclosure would severely restrict the Attorney General or the heads of other enforcement agencies in specific cases; and (4) should limit the scope of the prohibition to the general public and the individual about whom the record pertains. Although GAO agrees with the proposal to assess search and duplicating fees in appropriate cases, it does not believe that a fixed fee is desirable. Therefore, GAO suggested that each agency be directed to prepare a cost schedule to ensure that fees are charged only when the amount to be recovered exceeds the cost of collecting the applicable fee. The proposed requirement that law enforcement agencies prepare a standardized written response in situations where the agency does not have the records requested and where those records are exempt from disclosure would correct the existing situation where agencies denying requests on the basis of an exemption, in effect, alert requesters to the fact that they are under investigation.

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