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D.C. Appeals Court Dismisses Prisoners' Privacy Claims in Photograph Retention Suit

Derek Gilna

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia turned aside an appeal by Keith Maydak, Ambrose Mitchell, Paul Lee, and Gregory Smith, who were federal prisoners, alleging violations by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and the U.S. of 28 USC section 1331, and 1321, and Privacy Act claims under 5 U.S.C. section 55a (g)(I).

The prisoners alleged that the BOP had improperly carried out a policy of retaining duplicate prints of pictures taken and paid for by inmates paying $ 1.00 per photo. According to the decision, "until recently several prison facilities ... regularly obtained two copies ... retained the duplicate print ... (which) were reviewed ... for various purposes." They also alleged that this undisclosed retention of duplicate prints violated the Privacy Act.

The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of the Government, holding that 'prison officials' searches through boxes of unsorted photos did not constitute a 'system of records within the meaning of the (Privacy) Act.' The District Court also dismissed the Trust Fund claims.

The Appellate Court reversed this, but noted that since all appellants had been released from prison, their claims were now moot. The court also noted that questions existed as to whether, in fact, the pictures were retained by BOP officials for the purposes of later retrieval in further investigations, and if so, was of dubious property if undisclosed.

The Privacy Act claims were dismissed on the grounds that the collection of photos did not fit the definition of a system of records meant to be covered by the Privacy Act. They also stated that no evidence had been offered to show that the BOP officials acted "intentionally or willfully." Additionally, the court noted that the plaintiffs did not make timely discovery requests to clarify their allegations regarding the Privacy Act's intent question. See: Maydak, et al., v. United States, 630 F.3d 166 (2010).

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Related legal case

Maydak, et al., v. United States