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Privacy Act of 1974

Gerald Ford

Privacy Act of 1974: Gerald Ford was the 38th American President who served in office from August 9, 1974 to January 20, 1977. One of the important events during his presidency was the Privacy Act of 1974.

Definition and Summary of the Privacy Act of 1974
Summary and definition:
The Privacy Act of 1974 was enacted on December 31, 1974 during the Ford Administration to provide restrictions and safeguards against the invasion of personal privacy through the misuse of data and records by Federal Agencies.

The Privacy Act of 1974 established a a Privacy Protection Study Commission and granted access to records maintained by Federal agencies. National security exemptions to the Privacy Act of 1974 apply to records maintained by the Police, Secret Service and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The 1988 Computer Matching and Privacy Protection Actamended the Privacy Act of 1974.

Provisions of the Privacy Act of 1974: Facts for kids
The new law imposed completely new requirements on the federal government's handling of information concerning individuals. The provisions of the Privacy Act of 1974:

  • Restricted the disclosure of personally identifiable information

  • Required fair information practices in the maintenance of systems of records that contained personal information

  • Required individual notice and consent before collection and disclosure of records

  • Provided for access to an individual’s personal data

  • Restricted use of Social Security Numbers as personal identifiers

  • Restricted the use of computer matching programs for any computerized comparison of two or more automated record systems

  • Required transparency via Federal Register publication of Systems of Records retrievable by personal identifiers, including biometrics

  • Restricted records of First Amendment activities and freedoms relating to of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition

  • The law provided Civil and Criminal penalties for violations and private court actions by individuals

Facts about Privacy Act of 1974
The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on Privacy Act of 1974.

In 1974 there was no internet, no cell phones or smart phones but people had begun to have concerns about the information held on individual by government agencies.

Federal agency data banks were collecting personally identifiable information about individuals.

Biometrics, the collection and use of unique physiological characteristics to identify an individual, such as finger prints, voice recognition and photographs were also giving concern especially if they were used without an individual's  knowledge or consent.

The 1960's and 1970's also saw the increased use of computers and advances in computer technology, enabling the government to accumulate and store personal information.

Data practices were largely unregulated and their implications regarding privacy were causing suspicion and concern amongst many Americans.

Between 1965 and 1974 various congressional committees issued reports on how individual privacy rights were affected by the growth of data banks and the emergence of electronic data collection and storage. In 1974 over 850 federal agency “data banks” had been established.

In 1972 the Code of Fair Information Practices was developed by HEW, the Health, Education, Welfare Advisory Committee on Automated Data Systems.

The proposals in the HEW report related to the Automated Personal Data Systems, Records, computers, and the Rights of Citizens and was an important catalyst for the legislation known as the Privacy Act of 1974.

The 1973 Code of Fair Information Practices was based on five principles:

  1. There must be no secret, personal data record-keeping systems

  2. There must be a method to identify what information about an individual was on record and how it is used

  3. There must be a method to prevent information about an individual obtained for one purpose from being used or made available for other purposes, without the individual's consent

  4. There must be a way for an individual to correct or amend a record of identifiable information

  5. Organizations holding identifiable personal data must assure the reliability of the data and take precautions to prevent its misuse

The Privacy Act of 1974 was one of many laws adopted in the wake of the Watergate Scandal that  responded to public concerns about potential government misuse of private information and to demands for increased government accountability to the public.

Congress incorporated the principles of the Code of Fair Information Practices into the Privacy Act of 1974 and responded to the public concerns following Watergate.

The new law applied to Federal executive branch agencies, including the Executive Office of the President

Amendments to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to clarify and protect the right of the public to information and regulate government control of documents, were enacted the same year as the Privacy Act of 1974.

The Computer Matching and Privacy Protection Act of 1988 amended the Privacy Act of 1974. 

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