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Home > Privacy and Government > Privacy Law Governing the Public Sector > The Privacy Act > Doe v. Chao

Doe v. Chao

When the government has intentionally or willfully violated the Privacy Act, aggrieved citizens are entitled to damages. Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court has severely limited the applicability of a liquidated damages provision that gave a minimum $1,000 recovery to victims.

In Doe v. Chao, the Supreme Court found that a person could only receive the minimum $1,000 recovery if he or she separately proved actual damages. This strained reading of the law makes it harder for citizens to vindicate their rights under the Privacy Act. The harm from privacy invasions are often intangible and difficult to prove.

Imputed damages are good policy in the government context because citizens do not have the variety of options for recourse that they do against private actors. A privacy violation by government does not threaten its bottom line by driving customers away, for example. Liquidated damages are an appropriate part of the enforcement regime for the Privacy Act. The Act continues to need comprehensive revision.


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[updated 02/27/04]

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