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Abstract

The U.S. government maintains a vast amount of personally-identifiable information on millions of American citizens. Much of this information is contained in electronic databases maintained by federal agencies. Various Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requesters, such as journalists, marketers, and union organizers seek this information for different purposes including investigative reporting and targeted solicitations. These kinds of uses are known as "derivative uses" because this government-compiled information is requested for purposes other than the official purposes for which the information was originally gathered. These and other derivative uses of personally-identifiable information often implicate privacy concerns. Conversely, restrictions on public access to federal agency records can pose negative public policy implications. This article explores the continuing conflict between protecting personal privacy rights and safeguarding public access rights to personally-identifiable information under FOIA.

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