Pilot's Case May Help Define Privacy Act

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Stanmore Cooper was once convicted for making and delivering a false writing while renewing his pilot certificate and his case has now reached the Supreme Court, where it may decide the scope of the 1974 Privacy Act.  Cooper is HIV-positive and once disclosed his condition in order to receive Social Security benefits, but withheld it when renewing his pilot certificate. Those actions became known through the government's "Operation Safe Pilot" program, which shared the information without Cooper's consent, and the FAA revoked Cooper's certificate. Cooper entered a guilty plea and was convicted of making and delivering a false writing. He later appealed the case, saying government agencies had improperly shared information, and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. Now he's after damages, and the government is seeking to block his suit.

The Supreme Court Monday agreed to hear the government's appeal that would stop Cooper from suing for mishandling his medical records and bringing him emotional distress, according to the American Bar Association Journal. Cooper's attorney, James Wood, says that appeals courts are currently divided on whether plaintiffs can recover such damages. Wood told the San Francisco Chronicle that "unless these [damages] are compensable, it's a free license to the government." Cooper obtained his certificate in 1964, but stopped flying for nine years after being diagnosed in 1985. In 1994, he obtained a medical certificate and renewed it for the next decade, without disclosing his condition to the FAA. Information sharing between agencies without his permission delivered his condition to the FAA, which revoked his certificate in 2005. Cooper maintains that he withheld the information for fear of discrimination.