The Privacy Act of 1974: An Assessment. APPENDIX 4 TO The Report of The Privacy Protection Study Commission.. General Notice of Agency Systems, Policies, and Practices


The Commission's suggested revision retains the current law's requirement of an annual public notice on each record-keeping system, but with the primary object of facilitating internal agency compliance monitoring and external oversight. Thus, the revised publication requirement is drawn more specifically than the current one, requiring, for example, that a notice "describe in detail, in terms of systems and subsystems that most accurately reflect the context or manner in which the agency uses the information, the existence and character of such systems and subsystems." [(h)(1)] An agency is also required to publish notices describing "any substantially similar or derivative systems or subsystems." [(h)(1)(A)] These requirements attempt to discourage the publication of notices on record-keeping operations which are represented as single systems but which in fact are made up of many diverse subsystems that the notices do not describe. The revised notice requirement does not specify at what level a subsystem must be described, or the way to describe indices, but it does demand that an agency present a true picture of how it uses information in a system and the interrelationships among the system's various subsystems. This approach, in the Commission's view, is much more likely to assure that there are no secret systems than the one currently in the Act.

The revised notice requirement also requires all agencies to list, for all systems, the procedures whereby an individual can request access to records about himself. [(h)(1)(H)] Under the current law, systems can qualify for exemptions from this part of the notice requirement under the broad exemption opportunities provided in subsections 3(j) and 3(k). [5 U.S.C. 552a(í) and (k)] As the Commission would revise them, however, the exemptions would no longer be automatic, so there is no reason to provide an exemption opportunity for any part of the public notice requirement, except the requirement to describe categories of sources of information. The Commission allows for such an exemption in two cases: (1) if the information is authorized to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy; or (2) if it is investigative information compiled for law enforcement purposes as described in new subsection (b)(3)(B). [(h)(1)(I)]

Finally, the Office of the Federal Register would be given the additional responsibility of publishing agency notices and rules in a form "which is indexed, arranged, or otherwise prepared to enable ease of use and reference by the public." [(h)(2)] Every effort should be made to classify, compile, and index the information into logical categories. For example, it would be useful to differentiate between the large group of systems which are solely concerned with agency personnel and the much smaller number (of bigger) systems that contain information on citizens in general. The Federal Register compilation should make it easy for a private citizen, a member of a public interest group, or a Congressional staff member to pinpoint a particular type of notice, and the compilation of systems notices should be logically organized and indexed.