Understanding Privacy Law
Posted: December 22, 2022
When it comes to protecting your personal information, it’s important to know your legal rights. Privacy law is complex, with various laws focused on different aspects of your right to privacy.
What Is Privacy Law?
Overall, privacy law refers to all legal rights and restrictions related to your personal privacy. Interestingly enough, the right to privacy is not explicitly guaranteed by the American Constitution or Bill of Rights and was only formally codified into federal law with a series of legislative acts throughout the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.
Perhaps the most important of these privacy laws is the Privacy Act of 1974. This law was passed following a number of high-profile cases of the US federal government mishandling private information, including the Watergate scandal. The Privacy Act governs the collection, maintenance, use, and dissemination of information about individuals maintained by government agencies. Apart from a few exceptions, the Privacy Act also prohibits the disclosure of a record about anyone without the written consent of the individual.
Other noteworthy examples of privacy legislation include the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability (HIPAA) Act of 1996. This law protects identifiable information relating to people’s health and medical histories. These, together with a number of other laws and Supreme Court rulings, form the basis of Americans’ privacy rights.
Historically, many privacy law rights have been defined by state legislatures and courts. State Supreme Court rulings (precedents) date back farther than federal legislation and are often more targeted to specific types of claims or situations.
How Do Privacy Laws Work?
Privacy claims are usually enforced in the litigation process, with wronged parties suing the perpetrators for damages. These lawsuits generally fall within the realm of tort law, although there are cases where fiduciary law or other areas of law can be invoked.
In simple terms, tort law applies in any case where one party’s actions (or failure to act) cause harm to another party. In privacy law, these can take the form of any of the four privacy torts. The first is intrusion into a private individual’s “solitude and seclusion.” The second is public disclosure of private facts, causing offense or other damage, and the third protects private people from being cast in a “false light” by disclosing information about them. The fourth type of tort is the appropriation of someone’s name or likeness, which can be facilitated by the inappropriate sharing of private information.
Unlike torts, which are based on the damage caused to the litigant, fiduciary laws stem from a violation of trust or reasonable expectations. In privacy law, this can relate to concepts like the legal expectation of privacy. That said, torts are far more common in privacy law.
Regardless of which specific act or type of litigation may be best for a given situation, the complicated nature of US privacy law makes claims related to your personal information extremely challenging. Getting advice from a qualified attorney is key to skillfully navigating legal protections for your private information.
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