If you are a pilot or hold any other airman or medical certificate, the FAA has personal information about you. Depending upon how many certificates and/or ratings you hold, or if you have been involved in any type of enforcement proceeding, the FAA could have a significant amount of your personal information. The question many people ask is “If asked, what will the FAA tell someone about me”? That will depend upon who is asking the FAA for the information and how the FAA is being asked.
A request to the FAA for information regarding an airman can generally be made under one of three statutes: (1) the Pilot Records Improvement Act (“PRIA”); (2) the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”); or (3) the Privacy Act. The type and quantity of information released by the FAA will depend upon which type of request it receives and from whom it receives the request.
Pilot Records Improvement Act
If a pilot is applying for a position with an air carrier, that air carrier is required, among other things, to make a PRIA request to the FAA. Advisory Circular (AC) 120-68C sets forth not only guidance to air carriers for compliance with the PRIA, but it also identifies the information that the FAA will disclose in response to a PRIA request. The FAA will disclose (1) current airman certificates with associated type ratings and limitations; (2) current airman medical certificate including any limitations; and (3) summaries of FAA legal enforcement actions resulting in a finding by the Administrator of a violation that was not subsequently overturned. That means the FAA is only required to disclose fully adjudicated and closed enforcement cases in response to a PRIA request.
The FAA will not provide information concerning accidents or incidents in which the airman may have been involved, nor will it release information regarding open, pending, cases under appeal, or reopened enforcement cases. According to the FAA’s Office of Chief Council release of this information would be unfair to the pilot because: (1) the reports may or may not involve pilot error; (2) airmen identified in accident and incident reports do not receive the same due process protections as they receive in a legal enforcement action; and (3) the outcome of open cases that have not been fully reviewed by FAA, NTSB, or possibly by a U.S. Court of Appeals, is uncertain because such cases could eventually be dropped or dismissed by the court.
Freedom of Information Act
FAA Order 1270.1 details the FAA’s requirements and responsibilities for responding to FOIA requests. Under FOIA, the FAA will disclose information regarding accidents, incidents and enforcement actions. Any enforcement action will be disclosed, including cases that are still open, as well as those that are fully adjudicated and closed. However, “proposed” or “alleged” information contained in an open or pending case may be withheld until the case has been fully adjudicated and closed if the case is still in the investigatory stage and FOIA exemption 7 applies. Such “proposed” or “alleged” information may include the proposed enforcement action(s) against the alleged violator, the sanction(s) being considered as a result of the alleged violation(s), and the regulation(s) that was/were violated.
If the person requesting the information follows the proper guidelines when making the request, and one of the nine FOIA exemptions for denial does not apply, the FAA will disclose the information requested. The FOIA request must be made in an acceptable and appropriate manner and must positively identify the person who is the subject of the request. A FOIA request should clearly identify that the request is being made under FOIA by including the words “FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT” in plain sight within the request, and it should also include specific details concerning the information being requested.
Interestingly, under FOIA the subject of the request does not have to give consent for the release of the information, nor does the FAA have to notify the subject of the request. Also, the FAA is not required to provide the subject with a copy of the information sent to the requestor, as is required with a PRIA request, nor is the FAA required to provide any accounting to an airman who desires to know if another person has made a request concerning his or her records.
FAA Order 1280.1 explains the procedures and duties for the FAA to follow in processing an information request under the Privacy Act. The FAA’s release of information under the Privacy Act will depend upon who is making the request.
Upon request by an “Individual,” the FAA will release information concerning accidents, incidents, or FAA enforcement information involving the individual, verification of the individual’s medical certification information, and verification of the individual’s airman certification information. A “Third Party (Company)” may request records including verification of the medical certificate, pilot or mechanic certificate, or any other authorized certificate held by an airman, accident and incident information, and FAA enforcement information.
The requester must provide identification proving that the requester is the person he or she says. Additionally, unlike the PRIA or FOIA, the Privacy Act provides the subject airman with the right to request the identities of persons outside of U.S. Government agencies who have requested and received information pertaining to that individual.
With the privilege of an airman’s certificate comes concern regarding the FAA’s maintenance and retention of your personal information. Unfortunately, the FAA is required to disclose some, if not all, of that personal information depending upon the type of request it receives. The FAA will disclose a great deal more information in response to a FOIA or Privacy Act request than it will to a PRIA request. As a result, employers requesting information as required by the PRIA are often also making a concurrent FOIA or Privacy Act request in order to obtain more information about their applicants.
If you are concerned with who may have requested information about you from the FAA, you can certainly make a request under the Privacy Act to find out whether anyone has made a Privacy Act request about you. Or if you believe that too much or the wrong information was disclosed, consult with the applicable FAA orders to determine whether the FAA followed proper procedures.
At the end of the day, an airman’s personal information is available to the inquiring public. People can find out about you and you can find out about other airmen. Just ask the FAA.
The information contained in this web-site is intended for the education and benefit of those visiting the Aero Legal Services site. The information should not be relied upon as advice to help you with your specific issue. Each case is unique and must be analyzed by an attorney licensed to practice in your area with respect to the particular facts and applicable current law before any advice can be given. Sending an e-mail to Aero Legal Services or Gregory J. Reigel does not create an attorney-client relationship. Advice will not be given by e-mail until an attorney-client relationship has been established.