Concerned 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 bar authorities.
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 represented Mr. Tankersley in a suit against the relevant Maryland officials and agencies. The suit alleged 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.