The Privacy Act and the Freedom of Information Act

The Privacy Act of 1974 is a federal law that governs our collection and use of records we maintain on you in a system of records. A system of records is any grouping of information about an individual under the control of a Federal agency from which information is retrievable by personal identifiers, such as name, social security number, or other identifying number or symbol.

Under the Privacy Act, Federal agencies may not disclose information without consent unless certain exceptions apply to the disclosure. The Privacy Act provides protections to individuals in three primary ways. It provides individuals with:

  • the right to request their records, subject to Privacy Act exemptions;
  • the right to request a change to their records that are not accurate, relevant, timely or complete; and
  • the right to be protected against unwarranted invasion of their privacy resulting from the collection, maintenance, use, and disclosure of their personal information.

All System of Records Notices (SORNs) are published in the Federal Register. These notices provide the legal authority for collecting and storing records, individuals about whom records will be collected, what kinds of information will be collected, and how the records will be used. The Social Security Administration’s SORNs are available at

Inquiries concerning the Privacy Act should be directed to (410) 965-1727.

The Freedom of Information Act

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), as amended at 5 U.S.C.552, is a disclosure statute that requires Federal Executive Branch agencies to make records available to the public.

The intent of the FOIA is to prevent agencies from having “secret law” and to make the government accountable to the public for its actions. FOIA requires agencies to publish in the Federal Register statements of its organizations, functions, rules, procedures, general policy, and any changes, and how to get information. In addition, agencies must index and make available for public inspection and copying statements of policy, manuals and instructions, and final opinions and orders in cases, as well as the indexes.

FOIA applies to all records created or received by the agency and in its possession or under its control. Agencies must make records available to the public on request, unless they fall within one of the nine statutory exemptions. (See