The Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C.  552a (1994 & Supp. IV 1998), which became effective on September 27, 1975, can generally be characterized as an omnibus "code of fair information practices" which attempts to regulate the collection, maintenance, use, and dissemination of personal information by federal government agencies. However, the Act's imprecise language, limited legislative history, and somewhat outdated regulatory guidelines have rendered it a difficult statute to decipher and apply. Moreover, even after twenty years of administrative and judicial analysis, numerous Privacy Act issues remain unresolved or unexplored. Adding to these interpretational difficulties is the fact that many of the most significant Privacy Act cases are unpublished district court decisions. A particular effort has been made in this "Overview" to clarify the existing state of Privacy Act law while at the same time highlighting those controversial, unsettled areas where further litigation and case law development can be expected.

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