Privacy Program Resources

Guide to Making a Privacy Act Request

What is the Privacy Act?

The Privacy Act of 1974 (5 U.S.C. 552a), establishes safeguards for the protection of records that the federal government collects and maintains on United States citizens and aliens lawfully admitted for permanent residence. Specifically, it mandates that the Government:

  • Disclose why information is being collected and how it will be used;
  • Maintain only what is needed to accomplish agency business;
  • Publish any new, revised, or deleted system notices in the Federal Register;
  • Ensure that information is accurate, relevant, and complete; and
  • Provide individuals with the opportunity to correct inaccuracies in their record.

The Privacy Act allows individuals to:

  • Seek access to records retrieved by their name and personal identifier;
  • Seek the amendment of any inaccurate information;
  • Provide written authorization for representatives to act on their behalf; and
  • Seek records on behalf of a minor child if they are the legal guardian or parent and are determined to be acting in the minor's best interest.

What kinds of records does the National Archives and Records Administration maintain?

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) maintains many Privacy Act systems, covering records maintained on National Archives staff, contractors, volunteers, researchers and other individuals that are affiliated with the agency. If you have never been affiliated with the National Archives through employment, or if you have never contacted the National Archives as a donor or researcher, it is unlikely that we maintain any operational records referenced under your name. To determine the kinds of records we maintain, go to the Inventory of Privacy Act Systems of Records. Should you believe that information about yourself is likely to be found in one of our systems of record, your request should cite the systems that are relevant so that a search of those systems can be made.

How can I request access to National Archives records about myself?

To request access to information about yourself contained in a National Archives Privacy Act system of records use this form, or write the National Archives Privacy Act Officer, National Archives and Records Administration, Room 3110, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740-6001. 

A proper Privacy Act request letter must contain:

  • The complete name and identifying number of the National Archives system as published in the Federal Register;
  • A brief description of the nature, time, place, and circumstances of your association with the National Archives;
  • Any other information which you believe would help the National Archives to determine whether the information about you is included in the system of records;
  • If you are authorizing another individual to have access to your records, the name of that person; and
  • A Privacy Act certification of identity.

What is a Privacy Act certification of identity?

When you request access to records about yourself, you must verify your identity. If you use the online form to make a request, it includes certification of your identiy. If you make a request via mail, sign your request and your signature must either be notarized or submitted by you under 28 U.S.C. 1746, a law that permits statements to be made under penalty of perjury as a substitute for notarization. While no specific form is required, you may obtain a Certification of Identity form for this purpose from the National Archives Privacy Act Officer. You may also use DOJ Form 361. The following information is required:

  • Your full name;
  • An acknowledgement that you understand the criminal penalty in the Privacy Act for requesting or obtaining access to records under false pretenses (5 U.S.C. 552a(I)(3)); and
  • A declaration that your statement is true and correct under penalty of perjury (18 U.S.C. 1001)

How long will it take for the National Archives to process my request?

We will respond to your request within 10 working days of its receipt. If possible, we will make the records available to you at that time. If we anticipate a delay of more than 10 working days, we will notify you of an alternative date when the system manager will make the records available.

If your request does not contain enough information to allow the system manager to locate the records, we will request more information from you. Once we receive the additional information, we will respond to your request within 10 days.

How can I request amendment of my records?

If you believe an operational record that NARA maintains about you is not accurate, timely, relevant or complete, you may request that the record be amended. Write to the NARA Privacy Act Officer, Room 3110, 8601 Adelphi Rd, College Park, MD 20470-6001. You should include as much information, documentation, or other evidence as needed to support your request to amend the pertinent record. Mark both the envelope and the letter with the phrase “Privacy Act—Request To Amend Record.”

NARA does not amend records in our holdings, also known as archival records. Requests to amend Official Military Personnel Records generally must go to the Board of Correction for Military Records. See the Veterans Service Officer (VSO) Information page.

How does the National Archives provide access?

The National Archives provides you access to your records in one of two ways: by sending you or your authorized representative a copy of the records or by making the records (either copies or the original) available to you in person during normal business hours at the National Archives facility where they are located. If you want to see the records in person at a National Archives facility, you must furnish proof of identification. This may be done by either producing at least one piece of identification bearing a name or signature and either a photograph or physical description, or by signing the Certification of Identity form described above.

Are there fees for copies of records?

Yes. The charge is $.80 per page if the National Archives makes the copy or $.25 per page if you make the copy on a National Archives self-service copier. The National Archives will waive fees for the first 100 pages or when the cost to collect the fee will exceed the amount collected. If the system manager determines that the fees will exceed $250, we will notify you that the estimated fee must be prepaid before you can have copies of the records. If the final fee is less than the estimated amount you paid, the National Archives will refund the difference. You must pay by check or money order. Make your check or money order payable to the National Archives and Records Administration and send it to the National Archives Privacy Act Officer, Room 3110, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740-6001.

On what grounds can the National Archives deny my Privacy Act request?

The National Archives can deny your Privacy Act request for access to your records if:

  1. The National Archives has published rules in the Federal Register exempting the pertinent system of records from the access requirement; and
  2. The record is exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

How does the National Archives process a request for records if the records are contained in an exempt system of records?

Upon receipt of a request for access to a record that is contained within an exempt system of records, the National Archives will:

  1. Review the record to determine whether all or part of the record must be released to you, notwithstanding its inclusion within an exempt system of records; and
  2. Provide access to the record (or part of the record), or notify you that the request has been denied in whole or in part.

How will I learn if the National Archives denies my request?

If your request is denied in whole or in part, the National Archives' reply will include a statement specifying the applicable Privacy Act and FOIA exemptions and advising you of the right to appeal the decision in accordance with 36 CFR 1202.56.

How do I appeal a denial of my Privacy Act request?

If you are denied access in whole or in part to records pertaining to yourself, you may file an appeal of that denial with the National Archives. Your appeal letter must be postmarked no later than 35 days after the date of the denial letter from the National Archives. Your appeal must be in writing, and both the appeal and the envelope marked "Privacy Act-Access Appeal."

  • Address appeals involving denial of access to Office of Inspector General records to the National Archives Privacy Act Appeal Official (N), National Archives and Records Administration, Room 4200, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740-6001.
  • Address all other appeals to the National Archives Privacy Act Appeal Official (ND), National Archives and Records Administration, Room 4200, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740-6001.

How are appeals processed?

Upon receipt of your appeal, the National Archives Privacy Act Appeal Official will consult with the system manager, legal counsel, and such other officials as may be appropriate. If the National Archives Privacy Act Appeal Official determines that the records you requested are not exempt from release, the National Archives grants you access and so notifies you.

If the National Archives Privacy Act Appeal Official determines that your appeal must be rejected, the National Archives will immediately notify you in writing of that determination. This decision is final and cannot be appealed further within the National Archives. The National Archives' notification to you will include:

  1. The reason for the rejection of the appeal; and
  2. Notice of your right to seek judicial review of the National Archives' final determination.

What are my rights to judicial review?

Within two years of receipt of a National Archives final determination, you may seek judicial review by filing a civil action in a Federal District Court:

  1. Where you reside or have a principle place of business;
  2. Where the National Archives records are located; or
  3. In the District of Columbia.

What if I have a question that is not answered in this guide?

Questions concerning the National Archives' implementation of the Privacy Act can be addressed to the National Archives' Privacy Act Officer.

Privacy Act Officer
8601 Adelphi Road, Room 3110
College Park, MD 20740-6001
301-837-3642 (phone)
301-837-0293 (fax)