Privacy Act of 1974

Introduction: The original version of the Privacy Act of 1974 (S. 3418 Public Law 93-579) according to the Department of Justice ( was actually singed into law on September 27, 1975. It was called an "omnibus" (meaning that it packaged together several pieces of legislation in one bill) code of "fair information practices" and it set out to "regulate the collection, maintenance, use, and dissemination…" of information through and from the federal executive branches that is personal and should be restricted from general circulation. (This directive of course soon related to educational institutions in addition to federal agencies, and that information will be reviewed later in this paper.)
The Department of Justice (DOJ) account of why the bill was necessary explains that the bill was passed "…in great haste" toward the conclusion of the Ninety-third Congress. Elected officials who streamlined the process for this bill included Senators Sam Ervin (who headed the Watergate hearings in the U.S. Senate) and Charles Percy, and Congressmen Moorhead and Erlenborn. No conference committee was brought together as is nearly always the case; normally there is a House version and a Senate version and a committee convenes to resolve differences between the two bills. But in this case, there was a sense of urgency because the Ninety-Third Congress was about to be dismissed and, the DOJ reports, Congress was "concerned with curbing the illegal surveillance and investigations of individuals by federal agencies that had been exposed during the Watergate scandal."
In fact, in 1974 President Richard Nixon – who had just resigned his presidency in shame following widely publicized examples of abuse of power in his administration – had been found to have tapped phones of political opponents (he had an "enemies list"); and further, Congress was worr…

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