13.8 Privacy and Public Records

Federal, state and local agencies ARE aware of privacy concerns, however. The privacy issue is governed by the federal Privacy Act, passed in 1974 and amended multiple times since. The Privacy Act is intended to give individuals some control over the personal information that is collected by the executive branch agencies of the federal government. The act guarantees three rights: the right of individuals to see files about themselves, to correct any wrong information and the right of individuals to sue the government for permitting others to see information about them without their permission. Most states also have a version of the Privacy Act that covers state records about individuals. Again though, the USA Patriot Act now severely limits citizen rights under the Privacy Act.

FERPA for Parents and Eligible Students

So, for instance, you can request to see the records that the U.S. Department of Education has about you as part of its National Student Loan Data System. However, you could NOT request access to another person’s data in that same system without legal authority of some type (usually not something a communications professional would have). 

Your ability to collect information from public agencies is affected by these laws, along with a large number of other statutes and regulations governing electronic information gathering, “hacking,” credit-reporting services, electronic fund transfers, and a growing number of “homeland security” orders, laws, decrees and regulations.