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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.
(Subject: Doe v. Chao)
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