Minimizing Disclosure Risk in HHS Open Data Initiatives. 1. Privacy Act of 1974


The Privacy Act of 1974 was one of the first pieces of legislation to recognize the rights of individuals to privacy and the government’s responsibility to safeguard information that citizens provide to it. This law was based in part on a report prepared by an advisory committee under what was then the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW), which recommended a Code of Fair Information Practice that was intended to prevent information collected for one use to be made available for other purposes (without the consent of the individual), and would require agencies to have mechanisms in place that allow individuals to learn what information is being kept on them and to correct or amend a record (HEW 1973). The Privacy Act requires federal agencies to provide citizens with access and correction rights to personal information and limits how agencies share information. An agency can only disclose a person’s record with the individual’s written consent or under special circumstances. Under these exceptions, information may be shared within the agency or for uses for which it was intended (defined as routine use), for purposes of the Census, to the National Archives and Records Administration if the information is deemed worthy of preservation, to another agency for civil or criminal law enforcement activities that are authorized by law, and to individuals who have provided agencies with advance written notice that information will be used only for statistical research or reporting records. Records shared for statistical research or reporting must be “transferred in a form that is not individually identifiable.” 5

5 “The Privacy Act of 1974,” Title 5 U.S. Code, Sec. 552a. Available at [ Accessed May 30, 2014.

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