Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) / Privacy Act Representation/ States Open Records Acts (5 U.S.C. § 552 and 5 U.S.C. § 552a)
Whether you are a business or an individual, there are times when you may need to seek access to information from the government, whether federal or state. The need may arise under various circumstances or could be borne out of curiosity to know what information the government has about you or others.
Regardless of the reason for requesting the information, you have a right to certain government information, whether pursuant to federal laws or state laws. Further, where information about you is located in a Federal Privacy Act system of records, you have a right to access that information, except in limited circumstances.
Ruth Ann Azeredo, the principal for the Law Office of Ruth Ann Azeredo, LLC, a former federal government attorney, has over 30 years of experience with FOIA and Privacy Act law.
If you need assistance in seeking information the Law Office of Ruth Ann Azeredo, LLC can represent you with (a) seeking the information; (b) appeal processes; and (c) claims in court.
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
FOIA provides access to government information. In accordance with FOIA, the government has the obligation to release information unless it falls under one or more of the 9 enumerated exemptions. Moreover, even when some of the information falls under an exemption, it may still be subject to release in some circumstances, especially where the exemption is based on the government’s discretion.
Most states have enacted laws that mirror the FOIA, including its exemptions. As with the federal government, government entities are subject to these records access laws.
When seeking information, it is important to craft a request that will optimize a positive response and perhaps avoid improper denials. If a request is denied, in whole or in part, it is important to appeal the denial within the proper time frame. Where no appeal is provided by law, or in a situation where an appeal is denied, the next step is to seek relief from a court.
The Privacy Act applies to citizens, lawful permanent residents of the United States, and, as of 2016, the Judicial Redress Act was passed to extend the right to pursue certain civil remedies under the Privacy Act to citizens of designated foreign countries or regional economic organizations.
The Privacy Act requires that the federal government maintain only relevant and necessary information about individuals who are covered by the Act. In addition, the Act imposes many additional requirements, including that (a) the federal government inform individuals when seeking to collect information; (b) it publish system of records notices; (c) it maintain accurate, relevant, timely, and complete records; (d) it review records prior to dissemination; (e) the agency publish the authority by which it is gathering the information; (f) the agency publish the intended use of the information and how it will safeguard the information; and (g) the agency publish with whom it may share the information.
The Privacy Act does allow for certain disclosures in certain instances. Yet, for some of these, it must keep an accounting of what was disclosed and to whom.
Critically, you have a right to access your Privacy Act records, in most instances.
It is of no surprise that the federal government, through its various federal agencies, may fall short of these requirements. The Privacy Act authorizes civil remedies where the agency refuses to amend your record, where the agency improperly denies you access to your record, where the agency discloses your record without authority and causes you harm, where the agency fails to safeguard your information and it causes you harm, and when the information maintained about you in a Privacy Act record is aggregated or used improperly so as to cause you harm.
The Privacy Act also authorizes the discretionary award of attorney fees and costs in certain instances.
STATES OPEN RECORDS LAWS
As with the FOIA, states, counties, municipalities and quasi-governmental agencies must adhere to their pertinent State Open Records Laws. In most respects, these laws mirror FOIA requirements. The policy of these laws is to grant access to information except in limited situations.
WE CAN HELP YOU
The Law Office of Ruth Ann Azeredo, LLC will help you submit requests, appeal denials of your requests, seek amendments to Privacy Act records, and bring actions in federal or state courts.