Privacy Act of 1974

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Privacy Act of 1974

The Privacy Act of 1974 (5 U.S.C.A. 552a) is a federal law that places restrictions on the federal government's collection, use, and dissemination of personal information. As with most comprehensive federal statutes, the act provides general and specific exemptions as well as an administrative appeals process.

The genesis of the Privacy Act can be traced back to 1965, when a congressional subcommittee examined privacy issues. Between 1965 and 1974, other congressional committees held hearings and issued reports on how individual privacy rights were affected by the growth of national data banks and the emergence of electronic data collection and storage. An important catalyst for the legislation was a Department of Health, Education, and Welfare report on government records and computers. The report proposed a "Code of Fair Information Practices" to be followed by all federal agencies and urged the adoption of five core principles: (1) the government should not maintain any secret records; (2) individuals must be able to see what personal information about them is stored and how it is used; (3) individuals must provide prior written consent before personal information collected for one purpose can be used for a different purpose; (4) individuals must be allowed to fix or clarify personal information about them; and (5) organizations that store or use personal data must be responsible for the information's veracity and must attempt to prevent its misuse.

Congress incorporated these principles into the Privacy Act, which applies to the Executive Branch of the federal government. The executive branch encompasses administrative agencies, government corporations, and government-controlled corporations. The act does not apply to records kept by state and local governments or by private companies or organizations. Only U.S. citizens and lawfully admitted Aliens are given rights under the act. Accordingly, nonresident foreign nationals may not invoke the provisions of the act.Generally, the only materials that are subject to the act are those that are maintained in a system of records. The act defines "records" to include most personal information kept by an agency about an individual. A record contains individually identifiable information, such as data on a person's education, medical history, criminal history, employment history, or financial transactions. A "system of records" is a group of records from which information can be retrieved by name, Social Security number, or any other identifying symbol linked to an individual. Most personal information that is kept in federal government files is subject to the Privacy Act. Therefore, the government may not, for example, share medical-history information from a Medicare recipient with another government agency without first obtaining the individual's written consent.

The Privacy Act gives the government the authority to withhold records from individuals if important government interests are at stake. The government may deny access based on national security or law enforcement concerns. There are two general exemptions: one that applies to all records maintained by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and another that applies to federal Criminal Law enforcement agencies. The statute also lists seven specific exemptions that include Secret Service records involving the protection of the president, information used solely for statistical records, and various national security and law enforcement records.

Individuals who are denied access to their records may file an administrative appeal with the agency withholding the information. When a request for access is denied, the agency must explain the reason for the denial and must cite the specific statutory exemption. Individuals who can access their records, but who dispute the accuracy of the information, have the right to request a correction. The agency must acknowledge receipt of the request and must promptly make a determination whether or not to correct the record. If the agency denies the request, the individual may file an administrative appeal. If that appeal is denied, the individual has the right to Judicial Review by suing the agency in federal court. A lawsuit must be filed within two years from the date of the final agency denial.

Further readings

Brin, David. 1999. The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? New York: Perseus Publishing.

Rosen, Jeffrey. 2001. The Unwanted Gaze: The Destruction of Privacy in America. New York: Knopf.

Whitaker, Reginald. 2000. The End of Privacy: How Total Surveillance Is Becoming a Reality. New York: New Press.



West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
* Which data are privately identifiable information (PII) or private information (PI), as per the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), the Privacy Act of 1974, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), 23 NYCRR 500 and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)?
The letter references the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, which prevents schools from releasing grades without the permission of a student or former student. 
That means taking steps such as updating the Privacy Act of 1974 to limit government access to outsourced databases; increasing the authority of inspectors general at federal agencies to monitor abuses; boosting criminal penalties for lawbreaking officials; and perhaps most important, rethinking the drug laws that continue to invite snooping into our personal lives.
TokBox followed guidelines from The International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) that certify privacy professionals who advocate for Fair Information Privacy Principles originating from the Privacy Act of 1974 and enforced by the US Federal Trade Commission.
In the preservation phase of evidence, as it relates to body and dash camera footage, the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002; Privacy Act of 1974, Systems of Records Notices; and information technology outlined in Department of Defense Instruction 8500.01, Cybersecurity, provide directives for controlling the storage of data.
Such policies are required by the fair information practices incorporated into the Privacy Act of 1974. "They're not doing that at all, and they're certainly not informing people when they're doing it."
The Privacy Act of 1974 impacted all health care providers and health care plans that transmit health care information in an electronic format.
This guide instructs teachers on the key legal aspects related to special education, covering Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004, as well as some reference to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974. Chapters outline the core principles of laws and regulations, as well as key court cases, case studies, and common mistakes and solutions, in relation to partnering with parents, peers, administrators, and paraprofessionals; the supervision and protection of students; the basic principles of the IEP (individualized education program); behavioral interventions; documentation; record keeping and confidentiality; working with teams; and presenting a positive image as an educator.
federal statutes address private information--for example, the Privacy Act of 1974 (5 U.S.C.
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The report notes that the presidential memorandum orders all federal agency use of drone data to comply with the Privacy Act of 1974 and directs the Department of Commerce to create a framework for privacy, accountability and transparency for commercial and private drone use.