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August 29, 2008

Court Rules on HIV-Related Privacy Act Violation

Based on a recent court ruling, individuals may not necessarily receive compensation for being victims of violations of the Privacy Act—a law that prohibits the government from disclosing a person’s medical records without consent, The Wall Street Journal Law Blog reports.

According to the blog, Stanmore Cooper, a recreational pilot, became caught up in a government investigation to seek out medically unfit pilots. Cooper was one of 40 pilots indicted in connection with the investigation. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of lying to the Federal Aviation Administration about his HIV-positive status. His serostatus became public as a result of the investigation.

Cooper sued the government for violating the Privacy Act. However, Judge Vaughn Walker of the Northern District of California ruled that while a Privacy Act violation did occur, the emotional distress caused by the illegal disclosure of Cooper’s HIV status was not sufficient enough to award him damages.

The government attorneys in the case did not respond to the WSJ Law Blog’s request for comment.

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