The FPA is the centerpiece of federal statutory efforts to protect individual privacy. The FPA protects customer records maintained by certain financial institutions from improper disclosure to officials or agencies of the federal government without notifying the customer. There is a "waiting period,” during which the customer may challenge and prevent disclosure through legal action.

Does the FPA Protect my Records from Disclosure to State and Local Authorities?

The FPA covers only disclosure to the federal government, not disclosure to state or local government or to private parties. In addition, FPA coverage is limited to specified financial institutions and specified customers.

Note that the FPA requires the government to give covered financial institutions a certificate of compliance with the statute before they release customer records. If the institution relies on this certificate in good faith in disclosing the records, the statute will ordinarily preclude civil liability for that disclosure.

What Are the Coverage Limitations of the FPA?

The coverage of the Financial Privacy Act is limited in 3 ways:

  1. It applies only to requests or orders for information by certain federal "government authorities."
  2. The statute covers only certain specified classes of financial institutions.
  3. Only individuals and small partnerships are defined as customers whose records are protected by the Financial Privacy Act.

Are Financial Institutions Liable for Wrongful Disclosure of My Records?

Any agency or department of the United States, and any financial institution obtaining or disclosing financial records or information in violation of the statute is liable to the customer to whom the records relate for civil penalties. The customer, however, must bring the action in an appropriate United States district court within three years from the date on which the violation occurs, or the date of discovery of that violation, whichever is later.

Should I Contact a Lawyer?

If you believe that your information was wrongfully turned over to the government by a financial institution you may wish to contact a financial lawyer to determine whether you claim falls under the coverage of the FPA. If it does you will be required to file a claim against them and the government institution seeking your information.