Court holds Privacy Act "actual damages requirement" does not require pecuniary harm

I'm breaking blog silence to report on an amazing decision out of the DC Circuit holding that the federal Privacy Act's requirement that Plaintiffs show actual damages does not require pecuniary harm but can be met by a showing of emotional distress. Am. Fed'n of Gov't Employees v. Hawley, D.D.C., No. 07-00855, 3/31/08.

[T]he plaintiffs' alleged injury is not speculative nor dependent on any future event, such as a third party's misuse of the data, the court said. The court finds that plaintiffs have standing to bring their Privacy Act claim.

This follows the Supreme Court's holding in Doe v. Chao, 540 U.S. 614 (2004) that a plaintiff must prove actual damages to succeed on an alleged Privacy Act violation, however in that case, the court never defined "actual damages."

I think this is a great decision that supports the belief that people's harm from a privacy loss is not just another's use of that information to cause financial loss (i.e. identity theft), but that emotional damages and embarrassment are cognizable harms of privacy violations.

I imagine this will wind up on appeal and it will be interesting to see what happens.

Add new comment