Supreme Court Limits Privacy Act Remedies

In a 5-3 opinion, the Supreme Court held today that the Privacy Act does not allow recovery of mental and emotional damages suffered as a result of the Government's "willful and intentional violation" of the Act. Justice Alito, writing for the Court in FAA v. Cooper, said that the key term "actual damages" was ambiguous, and should be narrowly construed to limit Government liability. In a dissenting opinion, joined by two other Justices, Justice Sotomayor argued that the purpose of the Privacy Act is unambiguous: to protect individuals from "substantial harm, embarrassment, inconvenience, or unfairness" that result from Government privacy violations. EPIC filed an amicus curiae brief in the case, stating that privacy laws routinely provide recovery for mental and emotional harm, that such damages are the most common result of privacy violations, and that civil remedies are necessary to ensure enforcement of the Privacy Act. Congress is currently considering amendments to the Privacy Act. For more information, see EPIC: FAA v. Cooper and EPIC to Congress: Privacy Act Modernization Bill Should be Stronger.


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