In today’s digital age, the issue of privacy is more important than ever. With the advent of new technologies that allow for the collection and use of large amounts of personal data, the need for comprehensive privacy law has never been greater.

The United States has several federal laws that deal with various aspects of privacy, but there is no all-encompassing privacy law that covers everything. Instead, the various laws deal with specific issues and are often very siloed from one another.

In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the major federal privacy laws in the United States and what they cover.

Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970

The Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970 was one of the earliest federal privacy laws to be passed in the United States. It was implemented under Richard Nixon in an effort to guarantee the privacy and accuracy of consumer credit bureau files.

The FCRA protects United States citizens’ personal financial information upon collection by groups like credit agencies, medical information companies, and tenant screening services. The privacy law outlines what guidelines these organizations must follow when handling individuals’ sensitive data and also informs consumers of their rights in regard to the information on their credit reports.

The FCRA is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, an independent government agency that focuses its work on protecting consumer privacy interests. Inaccurate debt reporting, failure to send poor credit notifications, failure to provide a satisfactory process to prevent identity theft, and dissemination of credit report information without consent are some of the most common forms of violations they encounter.

Upon violating the FCRA, companies can expect to incur a number of penalties and losses, namely damages awarded to victims, court costs, and attorney fees.

Statutory damages don’t require supportive evidence and can range in compensation limit from $100 to $1,000. Actual damages that result from a proven failure to act have no limit and are determined on a case-by-case basis. The FCRA also permits a class-action lawsuit against companies in violation, which can end up costing companies millions.

Privacy Act of 1974

The Privacy Act of 1974 is a federal law that prevents federal agencies from disclosing personal information they collect without an individual’s consent. It was signed by President Gerald Ford near the end of 1974 in response to the Watergate scandal and public concern over the privacy of computerized databases. The Act requires that federal agencies publicly disclose their record systems in the Federal Register, which is a national and official record managed by the U.S. government.

Multiple groups share the responsibility of enforcing the Privacy Act of 1974, as the legislation contains a range of protections that apply to different areas of government. The director of the Office of Management and Budget maintains the interpretation of the act and can release guidelines to these groups as needed. The Federal Register is another important tool in the enforcement of the Privacy Act as it keeps track of all record systems subject to the act, as well as any changes that are made to these systems.

Violation of the Privacy Act of 1974 can be considered both civil and criminal, depending on the specific situation at hand. For instance, an individual may choose to sue an agency to prevent disclosure of their records or to compel an agency to correct inaccurate information. They could similarly sue to have records produced or to receive damages as the result of an intentional violation. 

Alternatively, if an agency willfully discloses personal information without an individual’s consent, they can be fined up to $5,000 and cited for a misdemeanor. It’s important to also mention that this misdemeanor charge can apply to anyone if they request an individual’s record from an agency under false pretenses.

Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986

The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 is a federal law that prohibits the unauthorized use of protected devices connected to the internet. In plain language, it essentially makes it a crime to hack into someone else’s computer.

The law was first passed in 1986 and has been amended several times since then to better reflect the changing nature of digital technology. It has been the subject of scrutiny over the years, as some argue its language is often vague and allows for broad interpretation. This can result in the law being applied to everyday activities that people might not realize are technically illegal. This is something that has been addressed in recent years and continues to be a point of contention.

The CFAA’s provisions criminalize several activities, including:

●          Unauthorized access of a computer

●          Acquisition of protected information through unauthorized access

●          Extortion involving computers

●          Intentional unauthorized access to a computer that results in damage

Penalties for violation can apply to these offenses even if they are ultimately unsuccessful.

The Department of Justice is in charge of enforcing the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. They investigate potential cases and, if they believe there is enough evidence, will file charges against the accused.

If someone is found guilty of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, they can face a number of penalties. These include fines, imprisonment, or both. The amount of the fine and length of imprisonment will depend on the severity of the offense and whether or not the accused has any prior convictions. Generally, first-time violators can expect up to a decade in prison, while second offenders can get up to 20 years.

Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA) is a federal law that was enacted with the goal of protecting the online privacy of children under the age of 13. The FTC is responsible for enforcing this privacy law and they have the authority to impose fines on companies who violate COPPA. These fines can be up to $43,280 per violation.

In order to comply with COPPA, companies must provide clear and concise information about their privacy practices on their website or online service. They must also get parental consent before collecting, disclosing, or using any personal information from children under the age of 13.

There are a few exceptions to this rule. Companies don’t need parental consent in order to collect a child’s name, email address, or other online contact information if they only use this information to:

– Respond directly to a one-time request from the child (such as responding to a question or entering the child in a contest)

– Protect the safety of the child or others

– Comply with the Children’s Internet Protection Act

Additionally, companies are allowed to collect, use, and disclose a child’s personal information without parental consent if they do so to support the website or online service’s internal operations. These operations include things like site maintenance, content delivery, and security measures. The FTC has published a set of Frequently Asked Questions that provides more information about COPPA and how it applies to businesses.

Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999

The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) is a federal law that was enacted in 1999. The GLBA’s primary purpose is to protect the privacy of consumer financial information. It applies to any company that has access to this type of information, including banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions.

Under the GLBA, financial institutions must take steps to safeguard the customer information they collect and maintain. They must also provide customers with a notice of their privacy policies and practices. This notice must explain how the institution collects, uses, and discloses customer information.

In addition, the GLBA gives customers the right to opt-out of having their information shared with third parties. Financial institutions must provide customers with a clear and conspicuous way to exercise this right.

The GLBA also requires financial institutions to take steps to protect the security of customer information. This includes implementing physical, technological, and procedural safeguards. Financial institutions must also train their employees on how to handle customer information in a secure manner.

Violations of the GLBA can result in a number of penalties, including fines, imprisonment, or both. For each violation, a financial institution can get a fine of up to $100,000. An institution’s directors and officers can face a fine of up to $10,000 or five years in prison (or both).

The Federal Trade Commission is responsible for enforcing the GLBA and has the authority to pursue legal action against companies that violate the act.

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is a national law that was enacted in order to protect the privacy of patient’s health information. HIPAA applies to any company or organization that handles protected health information (PHI). These entities are known as “covered entities” under HIPAA.

Covered entities must take steps to ensure that PHI is kept confidential and secure. They must also provide patients with a Notice of Privacy Practices that explains how their PHI will be used and disclosed.

Patients have the right to request that their PHI be released to them or to another party. They can also request that their PHI be corrected if they believe it is inaccurate. The ultimate goal of HIPAA is to ensure that patient’s health information is protected while also allowing them to have control over how it is used.

If a covered entity violates HIPAA, it can be subject to civil and/or criminal penalties. These penalties can include fines of up to $50,000 per violation and up to 10 years in prison for individuals who knowingly violate HIPAA.

The Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for enforcing HIPAA. They have a website that provides more information about HIPAA and how it applies to businesses.

Telephone Records and Privacy Protection Act of 2006

The Telephone Records and Privacy Protection Act of 2006 is a federal law that regulates how telephone companies can use and collect customer information. The law was passed in 2006 in response to a growing concern over the way that phone companies were handling customer data. At the time, a number of phone companies were selling customer information to third parties without customers’ knowledge or consent.

Telephone Records and Privacy Protection Act of 2006 requires telephone companies to get customers’ consent before using or sharing their information for marketing purposes. Companies are also required to provide customers with clear and concise notice of their privacy rights, and to allow them to opt-out of having their information used or shared for marketing purposes.

Violation of the Telephone Records and Privacy Protection Act can result in a jail sentence of up to 10 years and range in financial penalty. Cases involving more than 50 victims can double fines and add an additional 5-year jail sentence. If the illegally acquired phone records were used to commit a violent crime, crime against federal officers, or domestic violence, the jail sentence can be extended by another five years.


America’s privacy laws have a long history, and as we continue to move into the future, are sure to evolve even further. The laws discussed in this article are just a snapshot of the many that exist in order to protect Americans’ privacy rights. While some may argue that these laws are too restrictive or not enough, they nonetheless provide a foundation for how we as a society can safeguard our personal information. Products like Tokenizer+, Redactor+, and Secrets+ provide intelligent and automated AI/ML-based solutions to protect your company’s personal information. With the ever-growing importance of data security, it’s only a matter of time before even more laws are enacted to keep up with the changing landscape. Despite the continuous addition of privacy laws across the globe, cyber-attacks still exist. Contact us for more information on how your company can improve your security network and protect your data from cyber threats.