The Privacy Act: What the Government Can Collect & Disclose about You

overview-of-the-privacy-act-of-1974-2012-edition-9780160914461From the Government Book Talk Blog

Privacy is the watchword in the news these days. With the revelations in recent weeks about far-reaching domestic surveillance programs by the National Security Agency (NSA) and other Federal agencies that were expanded under the Patriot Act, Americans are scrambling to determine what privacy rights they have to information collected by the Federal Government.

Thus, the timing is ideal to review a biennial publication, Overview of the Privacy Act of 1974 (2012 Edition).

The Overview of the Privacy Act of 1974 provides a valuable function to consumers, the media, Government and members of the legal profession by not only providing the current text of the Privacy Act and all its subsequent amendments, but also by consolidating the current regulations and updates, interpreting the Act’s provisions and giving detailed legal analysis of the latest court decisions that have decided challenges to how the Privacy Act has been enacted by various White House Administrations and Federal Agencies since the Act was passed.

So what rights do individuals have under the Privacy Act? According to this document, individuals have the right to review records about themselves, to find out if these records have been disclosed, and to request corrections or amendments of these records, unless the records are legally exempt.

From reading the publication, it seems the Act also requires that a Federal Government agency must:

  • give the public notice of their systems of records by publishing them in the Federal Register 
  • follow strict record-keeping requirements;
  • request the written consent of the subject individual for disclosure of their personal information– “unless the disclosure is pursuant to one of twelve statutory exceptions;” and
  • provide individuals with a means  by which they can access and amend (review and correct) records stored about them.
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