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Legal Protections for Personal Data

Federal Laws | State Laws | Take Action

Protections for personal information in the United States have been called "reactive, ad-hoc, and confused." (See Reidenberg and Gamet-Pol, "The Fundamental Role of Privacy and Confidence in the Network," 30 Wake Forest Law Review 105 (1995).) Laws are made only in response to a specific perceived problem, and as a result are usually narrow protections in specific instances rather than a coherent statement of what information may be private. This makes an explanation of exactly what information is protected, and how it is protected, difficult. In addition, many privacy laws have large loopholes, which makes them hard to understand and apply.

Federal Laws

Federal laws that cover the collection and use of personal and consumer data.

Text of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. 15 USC 1681 (1992)
Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986. 18 USC 2510 et seq, 2710 et seq.
Note the many exceptions to the general rule forbidding interception of electronic communications.
Text of the Video Privacy Protection Act. 18 USC 2710.
A video rental facility may not reveal the titles of movies the customer has rented. It may, however, reveal the genre of movies the customer rents.
  • Telephone Customer's Protection Act.
Driver's Privacy Protection Act of 1994. 18 USC 2721
Not effective until 1997.

Privacy Laws by State

This information is from Compilation of State and Federal Privacy Laws (1992 ed.), by Robert Ellis Smith and Privacy Journal. For the complete book, yearly updates, and for other privacy related information and publications, contact Privacy Journal at P.O. Box 28577, Providence, RI, 02908.

Below, click on the abbreviation of a state to see which privacy-related topics its laws cover. An "X" next to the topic means that state law covers the subject (but not necessarily that the law affords a great deal of privacy protection) and an "0" means that the state does not have a law covering the topic. You may also reach the information by going to the state privacy document and scrolling through it.

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Take Action

How to take advantage of the laws and control personal information.

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