about privacy and identity theft, Congress enacted section 7 of the
Privacy Act, which forbids federal, state, and local government agencies
from denying a person “any right, benefit, or privilege” because the
person refused to share his or her Social Security number. In 2013,
Maryland revised its Rules of Procedure to prohibit attorneys from
practicing law in Maryland if they fail to provide their SSNs to state
Attorney Michael Tankersley has been licensed to practice in Maryland
since 1986. Tankersley, a former victim of identity theft, refused on
Privacy Act grounds to provide his SSN at the request of the Maryland
bar. The Maryland Court of Appeals responded by suspending Tankersley
from the practice law in the State of Maryland.
Public Citizen represents Mr. Tankersley in a suit against the
relevant Maryland officials and agencies. The suit alleges that the
Maryland rule violates the Privacy Act and seeks to have Tankersley’s
suspension set aside.
In December 2014, the district court dismissed the case, holding that
certain exceptions to the Privacy Act apply. In January 2015, Public
Citizen appealed the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth
Circuit. The Fourth Circuit held, over a dissent, that a provision in
the Tax Reform Act of 1976 applied and acted as an exception to the
Privacy Act’s protections.