TN 3 (01-95)

GN 03340.005 Granting Access to Records Under the Privacy Act

A. POLICY — REQUIREMENTS

The Privacy Act requires a Federal agency to:

  • Tell an individual upon request whether he/she is the subject of a record contained in one of the agency's systems of records.

  • Permit the individual (or a third party as outlined in B.2, below) to inspect and copy the record.

  • Permit the individual to bring another person when inspecting the record.

  • Present the record in an understandable format or with an explanation (e.g., provide a key for reading computerized reports).

B. POLICY — ACCESS RIGHTS

1. Extent of Access Rights

An individual's right of access extends only to records maintained in a system of records and retrieved by the individual's name or some other identifier unique to him/her.

The individual generally is entitled to see only information in the records which pertain to him/her. This includes any information in file about the individual's representative payee, such as the payee's name and payment address, and accountings pertaining to benefits which the payee received on the individual's behalf. In a few cases, individuals' files might contain summaries of the payee's criminal history which were obtained as part of an SSA pilot project; individuals are also entitled to see these summaries.

However, the individual is not entitled to know whether the payee is also payee for other beneficiaries, since that information is not part of the individual's own file.

2. Who Has Access Rights

The individual who is the subject of a record has access rights. Also, the following persons may have access if they are acting on behalf of the subject individual:

  • An individual's legal guardian, and

  • A minor individual's parents.

Follow instructions in GN 03340.020 when granting access to minors and GN 03340.030 for persons judged legally incompetent.

3. Who Does Not Have Access Rights

Representative payees and authorized representatives do not have access rights. Disclosures to these individuals must be made as disclosures with consent (see GN 03305.000), as routine use disclosures, or under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (see GN 03301.015).

(However, a payee is entitled to access information about himself or herself which is housed in the Master Representative Payee File system and retrievable by the payee's Social Security number or other personal identifier.

4. Assistance in Getting Access

An individual who visits a Field Office (FO) with a relative or other third party as a helper, or phones a FO or Teleservice Center (TSC) with the helper present, can ask SSA to relay information through the helper. This may be necessary because the subject individual has a hearing impairment, does not understand English well, etc.

SSA's policy in this situation is to:

  • establish the subject individual's identity in the usual manner (see GN 03340.015B); and

  • comply with the request, as long as the helper is physically present with the subject individual in the FO or is connected with the individual in the same phone call with SSA.

If a return phone call is necessary, the SSA employee must again speak briefly with the subject individual to verify his or her presence.

CAUTION: This is considered access, not disclosure with consent. (The latter requires written consent.) This policy applies only when the helper is present with the subject individual, either in a FO or at the location where a phone call to SSA originates. It does not apply if the helper phones SSA on the individual's behalf without the individual also on the line, or if the individual asks us to make a separate phone call to the helper.

5. Assistance Provided by a Telephone Relay System

An individual with a hearing or speech impairment may call SSA to request access to his/her records with the assistance of a telephone relay system operator. This request should be honored as long as the individual's identity is established.

This policy also applies to a parent or legal guardian who calls SSA with the assistance of a telephone relay system operator to request access to records of a minor or an incompetent individual as described in GN 03340.020 and