A CITIZEN'S GUIDE ON USING THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT
AND THE PRIVACY ACT OF 1974 TO REQUEST GOVERNMENT RECORDS
[ table of contents ] [ next section ]
VII. I. AMENDING RECORDS UNDER THE PRIVACY ACT
The Privacy Act grants an important right in addition to the ability to inspect records. The act permits an individual to request a correction of a record that is not accurate, relevant, timely, or complete. This remedy allows an individual to correct errors and to prevent incorrect information from being disseminated by the agency or used unfairly against the individual.
The right to seek a correction extends only to records subject to the Privacy Act. Also, an individual can only correct errors contained in a record that pertains to himself or herself. Records disclosed under the FOIA cannot be amended through the Privacy Act unless the records are also subject to the Privacy Act. Records about unrelated events or about other people cannot be amended unless the records are in a Privacy Act file maintained under the name of the individual who is seeking to make the correction.
A request to amend a record should be in writing. Agency regulations explain the procedure in greater detail, but the process is not complicated. A letter requesting an amendment of a record will normally be addressed to the Privacy Act/FOIA officer of the agency or to the agency official responsible for the maintenance of the record system containing the erroneous information. The envelope containing the request should be marked "Privacy Act Amendment Request" on the lower left corner.
There are five basic elements to a request for amending a Privacy Act record.
First, the letter should state that it is a request to amend a record under the Privacy Act of 1974.
Second, the request should identify the specific record and the specific information in the record for which an amendment is being sought. Copies of the records sought to be amended may be included.
Third, the request should state why the information is not accurate, relevant, timely, or complete. Supporting evidence may be included with the request.
Fourth, the request should state what new or additional information, if any, should be included in place of the erroneous information. Evidence of the validity of the new or additional information should be included. If the information in the file is wrong and needs to be removed rather than supplemented or corrected, the request should make this clear.
Fifth, the request should include the name and address of the requester. It is a good idea for a requester to include a telephone number.
Appendix 1 includes a sample letter requesting amendment of a Privacy Act record.