The Privacy Act and How it Protects Your Personal Information
Whether you’re a private citizen or a government worker, the Privacy Act is an important law that protects your personal information. Among other things, it prevents a company from using your information without your consent.
HEW Report on privacy
HEW was the name of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare’s advisory committee, which published a report in the late 1970s. The report compiled the most important foundational ideas for protecting privacy. It was an impressive feat of pragmatism that set the stage for the creation of the HEW Privacy Act of 1974.
The report, entitled Records, Computers and the Rights of Citizens, set forth the basics of protecting personal information. Its main recommendation was to use a Social Security number only when necessary. The report also endorsed the merits of a universal identifier.
The HEW report also enumerated the most notable privacy practices, including the need to be transparent and honest about the privacy of one’s medical records. It recommended that agencies be more upfront about their plans to share a person’s information. It suggested that organizations should take measures to prevent abuse of their databases. It also outlined the most useful data sets. It recommended that organizations create a master list of data sets, as well as create a privacy dashboard to monitor and analyze the data.
PPSC’s findings on individual access to records
PPSC officials have long been keen on updating their privacy tools and procedures to make them more user-friendly and compliant with the latest federal data collection best practices. During the last few years, the agency has embraced digital technology to enhance capacity and speed up the processing of requests. Most applicants have used the Agency’s Online Record System (AORS) to submit their requests. Some notable innovations include a new privacy dashboard and improved forms of electronic signature. In a recent survey, the agency found that over half of all applicants had submitted their requests by email.
In addition to the AORS, the agency implemented several other measures to better inform applicants and improve the experience of PPSC staff. Most notably, the agency was able to take advantage of the recent pandemic to update its privacy policies and procedures. In addition to the usual suspects, PPSC officials also forged a working partnership with the CDC to update its data sharing program to allow for quicker response times and more efficient collection of data from the health care community.
Exemptions from the Privacy Act
Currently, there are ten exemptions from the Privacy Act that apply to the disclosure of certain records. The exemptions are based on the purposes for which the information was compiled and whether the individual has consented to disclose the information. These exemptions are only applied to records that were compiled for law enforcement or investigative purposes.
A number of agencies, including the Department of Justice, are exempt from the Privacy Act when they create or maintain investigative or law enforcement records. These records are protected under section 552a(k)(5) of the Act. In particular, the Department of Homeland Security has exempted records covered by its system of records from the requirements of the Act.
A key issue in this case is whether the FBI can use the CRS regulation to claim that its investigatory material was compiled for law enforcement purposes and therefore does not fall under the exemptions from the Privacy Act. The District Court found that the FBI argued that it was exempted by the regulation, but the court rejected this argument.
Penalties for violating the Privacy Act
Getting into legal trouble for violating the Privacy Act can be a costly mistake. Not only can you be forced to pay a large fine, but you may be faced with a civil claim against the United States as well.
In addition to the federal government, the Privacy Act applies to state and local governments as well as certain government-controlled corporations. These organizations are responsible for ensuring that their customers’ privacy is respected. Failure to do so can result in the loss of personal information or other reputational harm.
The California Attorney General’s Office can impose a civil penalty of up to $2,500 per violation. However, if the violation is repeated, the office can levy a fine of up to $7,500.
While the act does not specify what constitutes a serious interference with privacy, it does include an exception for law enforcement purposes. The United States relies on a patchwork of state-by-state statutes, which means that even if an organization is operating in compliance with federal privacy laws, it may be subject to a civil penalty if it fails to adhere to a local or state privacy law.