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Office for Civil Rights

Notice about Investigatory Uses of Personal Information

To investigate your complaint, OCR may need to collect and analyze personal information such as student records or employment records. No law requires you to give personal information to OCR and no sanctions will be imposed on complainants or other persons who do not cooperate in providing information during the complaint resolution process. However, if OCR is unable to obtain information needed to investigate your complaint, we may have to close your complaint.

The Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. § 552a, and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552, govern personal information submitted to all Federal agencies, including OCR.

The Privacy Act of 1974 protects individuals from the misuse of personal information held by the Federal government. It applies to records that are kept and can be located by the individual's name, social security number, or other personal identifier. It regulates the collection, maintenance, use and dissemination of certain personal information in the files of Federal agencies.

The information OCR collects is analyzed by authorized personnel within the agency and will be used only for authorized civil rights compliance and enforcement activities. However, in order to resolve a complaint OCR may need to reveal certain information to persons outside the agency to verify facts or gather additional information. Such details could include the age or physical condition of a complainant. Also, OCR may be required to reveal information requested under FOIA (discussed below). OCR will not release information to any other agency or individual except in the one of the 11 instances defined in the Department's regulation at 34 C.F.R. § 5b.9(b).

OCR does not reveal the name or other identifying information about an individual unless it is necessary for completion of an investigation or for enforcement activities against an institution that violates the laws, or unless such information is required to be disclosed under the FOIA or the Privacy Act. OCR will keep the identity of complainants confidential except to the extent necessary to carry out the purposes of the civil rights laws, or unless disclosure is required under the FOIA, the Privacy Act or otherwise by law.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) gives the public the right of access to records and files of Federal agencies. Individuals may obtain items from many categories of records of the Federal government, not just materials that apply to them personally. OCR must honor requests under FOIA with some exceptions. Generally, OCR is not required to release documents during the case evaluation and investigation process or enforcement proceedings if the release could affect the ability of OCR to do its job. Also, a Federal agency may refuse a request for records compiled for law enforcement purposes if their release would result in an unwarranted invasion of privacy of an individual. Also, a request for other records, such as medical records, may be denied where disclosure would be a clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy.

 

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