Federal agencies issued with instructions to roll out digital record requests

By on 20/11/2020
Written consent no longer needed: Americans will be able to request access to their records electronically. Credit: Abstrakt Xxcellence Studios/Pexels

American citizens will soon be able to request access to personal records from federal agencies electronically.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued guidance in a memorandum last week for agencies to “provide a digital service option to ensure that individuals have the ability to digitally request access to or consent to disclosure of their records”.

The right to request access to records electronically was a central part of last year’s Creating Advanced Streamlined Electronic Service for Constituents (CASES) Act. The guidance applies to records protected under the Privacy Act of 1974.

Modernisation mission

Back in 2019 when the CASES Act was heading into the Senate, Congressman Garret Graves, a Republican from Georgia, said: “Currently, constituents in need of assistance to resolve issues with the VA [veteran affairs], social security, medicare, medicaid or other federal agencies must physically print, sign and fax, mail or hand deliver a ‘privacy release form’ to their congressional office before the office can take action.

“CASES integrates modern technology into a necessary process by allowing people to grant congressional offices electronic authorisation, while retaining the option of a paper submission.”

Indeed, the memo notes that: “Modernising these processes across the federal government is important to facilitating transparency and enabling access to federal programmes through seamless and secure digital service delivery.”  

Agencies have one year to make a range of updates. These include being able to “accept remote identity-proofing and authentication” to allow people to request access to their records or consent to their disclosure.

Agencies also need to update relevant sections of their websites that refer to obtaining access to records, and publish instructions on how to submit requests digitally. They must also “accept the access and consent forms from any individual properly identity-proofed and authenticated remotely through digital channels”.  

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