Haeji Hong Esq.


A divided Supreme Court recently decided in Doe v. Chao that the federal government’s disclosure of the social security number, while constituting a violation of the Privacy Act of 1974 (the “Privacy Act”), was not enough to compensate the victim. After examining the civil remedy section of the Privacy Act, the Supreme Court ruled that the victim must also prove that he sustained actual damages before recovering the statutory minimum damage of $1,000. This latest decision will greatly affect the enforcement of the Privacy Act by private citizens and reduce the effectiveness of the already much criticized Privacy Act.

This article argues that the Supreme Court’s latest decision will effectively eradicate the only meaningful enforcement mechanism of the Privacy Act. Part II examines the history of the right to privacy and the legislative background to the Privacy Act. Part III reviews the Supreme Court’s decision in Doe v. Chao. Part IV analyzes the Supreme Court’s decision and explains the detrimental repercussions of Doe v. Chao. Finally, this article concludes by proposing legislative changes to the Privacy Act so that privacy rights can be enforced effectively.