BOX 6.1 Major Provisions of the Federal Privacy Act of 1974

The Privacy Act of 1974 is designed to outline the responsibilities of federal agencies regarding the collection, use, and dissemination of personal information contained in their records systems. The act adopts the set of principles outlined by a committee of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in 1973 for protecting privacy:1 (1) there must be no secret personal data record-keeping system; (2) there must be a way for individuals to discover what personal information is recorded and how it is used; (3) there must be a way for individuals to prevent information about them, obtained for one purpose, from being used or made available for other purposes without their consent; (4) there must be a way for individuals to amend a record about themselves; and (5) an organization creating, maintaining, using, or disseminating records of identifiable personal data must ensure the reliability of the data for their intended use and must take reasonable precautions to prevent misuse of the data. The Privacy Act specifically

  • Gives individuals the right to access much of the personal information about them kept by federal agencies;
  • Places limits on the disclosure of such information to third persons and other agencies;
  • Requires federal agencies to keep logs of all disclosures, unless systems of records are exempt from the act;
  • Gives individuals the right to request an amendment to most of the records pertaining to them if they believe the records to be inaccurate, irrelevant, untimely, or incomplete;
  • Allows individuals to pursue disagreement and noncompliance with a civil suit in federal district cout;
  • Makes federal agencies responsible for collecting only relevant information about individuals, getting the information directly from the individual whenever possible, and notifying the individual at the time information is requested; and
  • Requires federal agencies to publish reports in the Federal Register for each new or modified record system, outlining categories of records maintained, their routine use, policies on their storage and retrieval, and other agency procedures related to the use, disclosure, and amendment of records.
  • 1  

    U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. 1973. Computers and the Rights of Citizens. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. SOURCE: Office of Technology Assessment. 1993. Protecting Privacy in ComputerizedMedical Information, OTA-TCT-576. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., pp. 77-78.



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