Privacy Act of 1974

Overview of the Privacy Act

The "Overview of the Privacy Act of 1974, 2015 Edition" is a comprehensive treatise of existing Privacy Act case law.

The “Overview of the Privacy Act of 1974,” prepared by the Department of Justice’s Office of Privacy and Civil Liberties (OPCL), is a discussion of the Privacy Act's disclosure prohibition, its access and amendment provisions, and its agency recordkeeping requirements. Tracking the provisions of the Act itself, the Overview provides reference to and legal analysis of court decisions interpreting the Act's provisions. The Overview is not intended to provide policy guidance, as that role statutorily rests with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), 5 U.S.C. § 552a(v). However, where OMB has issued policy guidance on particular provisions of the Act, citation to such guidance is provided in the Overview.

Privacy Act of 1974 Information

The Privacy Act was passed in 1974 to establish controls over what personal information is collected, maintained, used and disseminated by agencies in the executive branch of the Federal government.

The Privacy Act only applies to records that are located in a “system of records.” As defined in the Privacy Act, a system of records is “a group of any records under the control of any agency from which information is retrieved by the name of the individual or by some identifying number, symbol, or other identifying particular assigned to the individual.”

For a complete list of the Department’s records collections systems, go to the following pages:

The Privacy Act guarantees three primary rights:

    1. The right to see records about oneself, subject to Privacy Act exemptions;
    2. The right to request the amendment of records that are not accurate, relevant, timely or complete; and
    3. The right of individuals to be protected against unwarranted invasion of their privacy resulting from the collection, maintenance, use, and disclosure of personal information.

If you are a citizen of the United States or an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence, you may make a request for personal information on yourself under the Privacy Act. Go to the Request page for more information.

Requests made under the Privacy Act will be processed under both the Privacy Act and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to ensure the greatest access to your personal records.

Please Note:
  • The Privacy Act prohibits the disclosure of a record about an individual from a system of records absent the written consent of the individual, unless the disclosure is pursuant to one of twelve statutory exceptions.
  • The Act also provides individuals with a means by which to seek access to and amendment of their records, and sets forth various agency record-keeping requirements.

Questions and Comments

Send Questions or Comments on the Commerce Office of Privacy and Open Government programs to

Office of Privacy and Open Government
Office of the Chief Financial Officer and Assistant Secretary for Administration
U.S. Department of Commerce


Page last updated: October 5, 2016