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Chapter 4. Legal Threats to Individual Privacy > Government Threats to Privacy

Government Threats to Privacy

Government threats to individuals can be rather obscure. Approaches to privacy vary from country to country, but two basic models are followed. The first is a regulatory model adopted by the government to provide guidance, laws, and enforcement for privacy and security. The second model is one of self-regulation and sectoral laws. Sectoral laws are specific to certain industries, technologies, and states. Laws get developed as a last resort and follow technology development. In countries such as Hong Kong, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand and in Central and Eastern Europe, governments have taken a very active role in privacy rights. A public position also has been developed in several of these countries to enforce a comprehensive data protection law. This position monitors compliance with the law and conducts investigations.

Other countries, such as the United States, have avoided general nationwide laws until very recently in favor of specific sectoral laws and have relied on industry self-regulation. Enforcement is much more difficult in countries following this type of regulation. More mechanisms are needed to enforce privacy rights because taking advantage of the consumer is easier. The U.S. Privacy Act of 1974 regulates federal government agency record keeping and disclosure practices and gives individuals access to public records. It also requires that personal information in agency files be accurate, complete, relevant, and timely. Since 1974, the act has been amended several times, and new laws have been passed involving privacy. New legislation will be continuously needed with each new technology, so protections frequently lag behind, exposing the consumer to privacy invasion.


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