Examination of the Privacy Act of 1974 and Its Effect on Federal Employment

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  • Topic: Privacy Act of 1974, Privacy, United States Code
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HRM 630 - Week Four Assignment - “Examination of the Privacy Act of 1974 and its Effect on Federal Employment”

Brian Brillo

National University - HRM 630: Legal, Ethical and Safety Issues in Human Resource Management

July 29, 2010

Abstract

This paper is an examination of the Privacy Act of 1974, which includes research of the history, relevancy, strengths, weaknesses, and current trends of the process, and examples of current challenges with the Privacy Act within Federal employment. This paper is influenced by the theories and readings for Week Four of the Legal, Ethical and Safety Issues in Human Resource Management (HRM 630) Course.

The comparisons set forth within this paper will include theories found in Employment Law for Business, Sixth Edition by Dawn D. Bennett-Alexander and Laura P. Hartman. (Bennett-Alexander & Hartman, 2009).

HRM 630 - Week Four Assignment - “Examination of the Privacy Act of 1974 and its Effect on Federal Employment”

Within both Federal service and the private sector, the privacy of personal and confidential information from disclosure to unauthorized personnel is of great importance, and protects the government, its employees as well as its customers from any liability. Such regard for the safeguarding of such information to protect against potentially expensive consequences is so high, that the Federal Government created the Privacy Act of 1974. However, with the rules and regulations set forth within the Privacy Act, it begs numerous questions, including ‘what is covered’, ‘what constitutes a violation’ or ‘what consequences can occur for such a violation’? As such, this paper will be an examination of the Privacy Act, and will cover the history, relevancy, strengths, weaknesses, and current trends of the process, as well as examples of current challenges with the process.

Pursuant to their chapter entitled, “The Employee’s Right to Privacy and Management of Personal Information”, in the textbook Employment Law for Business, Sixth Edition, Dawn D. Bennett-Alexander and Laura P. Hartman discuss that the Privacy Act “regulates the release of personal information about federal employees by federal agencies”. (Bennett-Alexander & Hartman, 2009, p. 667). While we can understand what the Privacy Act regulates, it should first be understood why it even exists. According to EPIC.org, which stands for Electronic Privacy Information Center, the website discusses the history of the Privacy Act, and states that “as technology advanced through the 1960s and 70s, it became easier for agencies to cross-reference individuals' personal data” and that “citizens and legislators began to contemplate the ways that this information, if compiled, could be abused”. (EPIC.org, 2010). As such the Federal Government took into consideration that with personal data becoming more easily accessible, rules and regulations needed to be put in place to protect such personal data from disclosure. As we can understand why the Privacy Act was created, we must now understand what it covers.

Under the Privacy Act, the Agency is limited to the disclosure of personal data and may only disclose such information if it has permission from the individual or if one of twelve conditions under 5 U.S.C. § 552.a (b) has been met, which constitutes the strength of the Privacy Act. Among the twelve, the first and arguably most important condition is that “to those officers and employees of the agency which maintains the record who have a need for the record in the performance of their duties”. (5 U.S.C. § 552.a (b)). What this first condition (which sets the tone for the following conditions) generally states, is that the Agency must have a legitimate business reason for utilizing the Privacy Act information and that any disclosure of such data outside the scope of a work-related matter, including workplace investigations or administrative hearings, can be subject to a violation that may lead to fraud,...
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