A CITIZEN'S GUIDE ON USING THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT
AND THE PRIVACY ACT OF 1974 TO REQUEST GOVERNMENT RECORDS
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VII. G. 1. General Exemptions
There are two general exemptions under the Privacy Act. The first applies to all records maintained by the Central Intelligence Agency. The second applies to selected records maintained by an agency or component whose principal function is any activity pertaining to criminal law enforcement. Records of criminal law enforcement agencies can be exempt under the Privacy Act if the records consist of (A) information compiled to identify individual criminal offenders and which consists only of identifying data and notations of arrests, the nature and disposition of criminal charges, sentencing, confinement, release, and parole and probation status; (B) criminal investigatory records associated with an identifiable individual; or (C) reports identifiable to a particular individual compiled at any stage from arrest through release from supervision.
Systems of records subject to the general exemptions may be exempted from many of the Privacy Act's requirements. Exemption from the act's access and correction provisions is the most important. An individual has no right under the Privacy Act to ask for a copy of or to seek correction of a record subject to the general exemptions.
In practice, these exemptions are not as expansive as they sound. Most agencies that have exempt records will accept and process Privacy Act requests. The records will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Agencies will often disclose any information that does not require protection. Agencies also tend to follow a similar policy for requests for correction.
Individuals interested in obtaining records from the Central Intelligence Agency or from law enforcement agencies should not be discouraged from making requests for access. Even if the Privacy Act access exemption is applied, portions of the record may still be disclosable under the FOIA. This is a primary reason individuals should cite both the Privacy Act and the FOIA when requesting records.