The privacy act of 1974 was an attempt to assure the privacy of government information about individuals in order to prevent information about them from being disseminated, and to allow an individual to assure the integrity of government held information. This act is essentially the opposite of the freedom of information act, in that it restricts the dissemination of information rather than providing for it.
An example of the protection provided by the privacy act is the prevention of the sharing of records between government agencies. This introduces a great deal of overhead in that each agency must have an independent set of records on each individual of interest, but it also prevents so called 'matching', in which (for example) the IRS performs audits on all welfare recipients who have prison records, by matching the welfare records and the prison records. The problem with allowing this sort of matching is that it provides a de-facto method of discrimination. For example, the above match will cause audits on a great number of slum occupants because the statistics show that the preponderance of those in both categories live in slums. By choosing the statistics, we can cause de-facto discrimination. In fact, if we wish to discriminate against any given sector of the population, we can easily find a statistic that will create that sort of discrimination (as we saw in the section on databases).
Again, as in the freedom of information act, the privacy act allows waivers. Thus, the IRS recently attempted to perform audits of all citizens with unpaid student loans. This of course discriminates against middle class white professionals, but apparently this is not a problem since they are not considered an oppressed group. Eventually, this sort of discrimination can cause a group to become oppressed, and thus the granting of waivers is again a questionable issue.