In 2008, Gregory Warren requested documents from the SSA. The documents were related to his father’s disability status. Mr. Warren needed the documents in order to obtain proceeds from his father’s life insurance policy. The SSA denied his request. Warren argued, that the records pertained to him and that—because his father was deceased at the time of Warren’s request—the SSA had no legitimate interest in withholding them.

The rule is agencies do not have to provide records unless they are contained in an agency’s system of records. “System of records” are defined as a “group of any records under the control of any agency from which information is retrieved by the name of the individual or by some identifying number, symbol, or other identifying particular assigned to the individual.” Therefore, the SSA was not required to hand over Warren’s records because if “an individual is named in a record about someone else … and the agency only retrieves the portion pertaining to him by reference to the other person’s name …, the agency is not required to grant him access.”

This case shows that, even if an agency voluntarily releases documents, it may still be required to pay damages to a requesting party.

Read the whole case at the link below.

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