What Federal Laws Protect Data Privacy?


The first step of sensitive data discovery and migration is understanding what data is considered “sensitive” to begin with. Data privacy regulation in the United States is very different from the European Union. This piece will review the consumer data privacy laws that businesses operating in the US need to be aware of, and how these laws differ from the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). 

Is There a Data Protection Act In the US?

No, there is not one single data protection act in the United States at a federal level. Instead, different Federal agencies which oversee and regulate different sectors of the economy have each established their own rules for their industry. For instance, this means financial institutions are governed by different privacy regulations than healthcare providers. Schools have their own rules and regulations to follow. And private companies can feel caught in a gray area where they’re not sure what are the consumer privacy laws they need to follow. 

Why Doesn’t the US Have GDPR?

The US doesn’t follow the General Data Privacy Regulations because it is not part of the European Union. But you may wonder more generally, why isn’t there one federal law that sets basic standards for every US business in every industry? Different versions of such a law have been brought before Congress in the past, including the American Data Privacy and Protection Act which is currently under review in the US Senate. But laws have not been passed for a number of reasons. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Concern over the amount of enforcement loopholes and potential for the oversight to be selectively applied.
  • Too generic of regulations can limit the operations and growth of some sectors of business.
  • Some argue that overarching data privacy is a state’s rights issue, with each state entitled to the choice to regulate all the businesses within its borders or not. 

These are just some of the perspectives which must be brought to bipartisan compromise before a data privacy bill can be passed into law in the US. 

What Are the Federal Privacy Laws?

There are multiple Federal regulations governing data privacy. Here is a list of some of the US federal laws governing sensitive data:

US Data Privacy Laws 2022

  • Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Act: This law passed in 1914 created the Federal Trade Commission to prevent unfair or deceptive business practices. This act protects consumers from “injurious conduct,” including mishandling or misuse of their sensitive data and contact information. 
  • US Privacy Act of 1974: This law passed in 1974 protects an individual’s privacy against the government. US citizens have the right to access, copy, and correct data held by government agencies. These agencies are limited in their permissions to share data with each other, and with their employees. 
  • Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA): This law, which took effect in 1971, governs the collection of data to create a credit report. There are regulations around the scope of the report, the data sources, who has access to it, who can edit the report, and more. 
  • Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA): Passed in 1974, FERPA limits who can access a student’s educational records. This law also gives families and guardians the right to request changes to educational records and keep their own copies. 
  • Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA): Another law governing financial institutions, the GLBA took effect in 1999 and requires that information-sharing practices be made known to the consumer. This includes the opportunity to opt-out of having their data shared if they desire. 
  • Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA): This law was passed in 1968 to prevent government wiretaps on phones, and also set more broad rules about how employers are allowed to monitor employee communications. 
  • Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA): This law took effect in 2000 to protect children age 13 and younger online. COPPA mandates a need for parental consent to collect data from these users, and also puts limitations on marketing and what must be included in a website privacy policy.
  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA): This law took effect in 2003 to protect a patient’s healthcare data and prevent it from being used or sold without their consent. HIPAA clearly defines who is a “covered entity” that must comply with regulations, including hospitals, doctors, pharmacies, and insurers. 

One major difference between these and other US data privacy laws vs GDPR is a lack of clear overall guidance on how long sensitive data should be maintained and when it should be disposed of. Some laws, like HIPAA, contain industry-specific guidance. But puzzling out which laws apply to you and how to follow them takes valuable time–and every day you spend is another day of data that might be out of compliance. This is especially true of unstructured data like emails, chat records, and documents that are not stored in a secure database. 

Keep Unstructured Data Secure

At DryvIQ, it’s our mission to help businesses of the world streamline and automate their compliance with data privacy regulations. We help companies in the United States, as well as those in other countries or doing business across borders. Data privacy regulation is incredibly complex and only getting more complicated, but you don’t have to lose sleep worrying about fines and penalties. Learn more about our innovative approach to unstructured data management and security, and let us help you protect your sensitive data.

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