Federal Workers’ Privacy Rights if STOCK Act Provision Mandating Online Disclosure of Financial Data Goes Into Effect, Says District Court Judge

In Senior Executives Association v. United States, U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland Judge Alexander Williams said that the privacy rights of thousands of senior federal workers could be violated if a Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act provision, which mandates that these employees’ financial information is disclosed online, goes into effect.

The court noted that exposure from disclosure online is greater than what existed under the old regime of disclosure. Under the old requirements, per the Ethics in Government Act, federal employees’ financial reports had to individually requested, while the requestor had to name itself. Information about the legal parameters of use was provided.

Meantime, a Congressionally mandated study, which was recently released, reports that broad online disclosure of government workers’ financial data is possibly dangerous and should be indefinitely delayed. Conducted by a National Academy of Public Administration panel, “An Independent Review of the Impact of Providing Personally Identifiable Financial Information Online” found that the STOCK Act‘s disclosure requirement could hurt federal agency missions, as well as workers. Among the worries brought up: possible identity theft and potential exploitation by foreign intelligence services and others. There were also concerns that access to what has normally been private financial formation, including debt and other financial losses, could now be used to suss out who might be most vulnerable to bribes and other financial inducements. The study recommends that lawmakers indefinitely suspend this provision.

Noting that only approximately 450 financial reports for senior federal employees were sought over two years under the old disclosure regime, Judge Williams suggested that the privacy of over 28,000 workers eclipses the privacy loss “associated with” the old system.

“The goal of the legislation was to place the same type restrictions on Congresspersons and Senators, their staff, and other government workers that the rest of us face: No trading on insider information!” Said Securities Lawyer William Shepherd. “Folks in Washington get lots of inside information, such as how laws will effect companies, who is getting government contracts, etc. This is information we could all get rich on – and many do! So, what happens when one writes a law to prevent themselves from an unfair advantage over you and me? Well, they could write a law that is unconstitutional so the courts will throw it out. This way, they appear to be taking action – but nothing happens in the long run. The result is that they can keep making money unfairly without worrying about breaking the law.”

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