After our experience in 2012, my husband and I sued the government over its violation of the Privacy Act. For the past year, we’ve battled the government to get it to admit that it violated both the letter and the spirit of the 1974 act.
In September of this year, my husband and I were successful in defeating a government motion to dismiss our Privacy Act litigation. By letting our case move forward, at least one federal court is flashing a yellow light to warn those in government against doing the same unwarranted damage to another innocent family. But Congress needs to reaffirm what it said in 1974: that privacy is a “fundamental right,” that citizens are entitled to “safeguards … against an invasion of personal privacy” and to “damages which occur as a result of willful … violat[ions of] any individual’s rights under this Act.” If Congress still believes those 40-year-old principles, then it needs to correct the Cooper decision and expressly allow injured parties to invoke the act’s protections whether or not they have suffered more damage to their reputation than to their pocketbook.
But that alone is not enough.
Congress also needs to add a dedicated privacy watchdog to exercise oversight over the government’s sprawling investigative and surveillance apparatus.