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BOP Settles “Terrorism” Classification Privacy Act Suit for $3,000

BOP Settles "Terrorism" Classification Privacy Act Suit for $3,000

Plaintiff William Francis fought for more than 12 years to have what he claimed was erroneous information linking him to "terrorism" removed from his prison file. His persistence ultimately paid off. On August 18, 2006, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) agreed to pay Francis $3,000 and to remove his Security Threat Group (STG) designation in order to settle his federal Privacy Act lawsuit.

In the Spring of 1994 while he was imprisoned at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in McKean, Pennsylvania, prison officials informed Francis that he was under investigation. Francis was not told why he was being investigated and given no reason for his subsequent detention.

Francis later surmised from conversations with prison employees that a report resulting from the investigation described him as having "extensive knowledge of explosives and weapons, and prior training and experience."

In 1998 Francis tried to obtain the 1994 report through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The BOP released only the cover page of the report claiming the other pages obtained information exempted under the FOIA. After subsequent requests in December 2001 and August 2002 the BOP finally released 15 pages of related records. One entry in those records read: "Security Threat Bombs Explosives Expert."

On June 26, 2002, Francis filed a pro se lawsuit under the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a, claiming the designation was inaccurate and that it caused him to be placed in special housing and eventually segregation and resulted in higher custody and security designations--including his transfer in 1994 to what was "then considered one of the most violent and illicit drug-infested facility in the [BOP] system."

Under the Privacy Act federal agencies are required to maintain records used in making determinations "with such accuracy, relevance, timeliness, and completeness as is reasonably necessary to assure fairness to the individual in the determination [about the individual]." The Privacy Act also stipulates that an agency may be liable "for actual damages sustained by the individual as a result of the refusal or failure" to maintain accurate records and "consequently a determination is made which is adverse to the individual."

The BOP decided to settle the case after its motion to dismiss was denied by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The resulting agreement admits no wrongdoing by the BOP, which since August 2002 has exempted its records from the Privacy Act's accuracy requirements. It does, however, provide that the BOP will remove the STG designation in Francis' file and pay him a total of $3,000.

Attorney Mike Walsh of the Washington, D.C. law firm O'Melveney & Myer was appointed to the case in September 2006 and represented Francis in the settlement. See: Francis v. Bureau of Prisons, USDC DC, Case No. 1:02CV01270 (PLF).

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Related legal case

Francis v. Bureau of Prisons