What is Privacy Law?

Mary McMahon

Privacy law is an area of the law which pertains to privacy. Many nations have identified the privacy of individual citizens as an important value, and have created an expectation of privacy through the authoring of privacy law. Laws by nation vary considerably, and in most cases, privacy law has actually been created through a series of legislative actions and legal cases as shifting society has illuminated the need to adapt the law to cover new situations.

Privacy law prevents interception of letters sent via the post office.
Privacy law prevents interception of letters sent via the post office.

The underlying idea behind privacy law is that citizens have a reasonable expectation of privacy about their personal lives. As long as people are not breaking the law, they should assume that they can enjoy privacy and confidentiality in personal matters. One area of privacy law is privacy in the home, which protects people from unreasonable intrusion by government officials. In fact, the home is one of the most heavily protected areas under privacy law.

Another area which privacy law covers is communications. As a general rule, it is not legal to intercept or listen in on communications, from letters sent through the post office to phone calls. In order to do so, it is necessary to have a warrant from a court. People are also protected from recording of conversations, depending on the law. In areas with a one party law, as long as one person knows that the conversation is being recorded, it is legal. With two party laws, both people in a conversation must be aware of the fact that it is being recorded for the recording to be legal.

Financial and medical records are also protected under privacy law, although, like communications, they can be obtained with a warrant. In addition to providing people with privacy, the law is also designed to prevent abuse of such records. When people release financial or medical information, they do so by signing detailed waivers which make them aware of how the information will be used and by which entity. This information must be protected by whichever person or organization has collected it, whether it takes the form of an electronic record in a hospital computer, or a safe deposit box in a bank.

Privacy law also covers online communications and activities. For example, people who process personal information on the Internet must encrypt it so that it cannot be intercepted by a third party. Internet privacy law is especially complicated because people may visit sites hosted in foreign countries, may work with companies all over the world, and may engage in a variety of activities online.

Discussion Comments


can my employer fire me for a personal issue? i worked at a bank, and they looked into my accounts as well, but the real reason they said it was because a friend and customer of mine happened to complain to my HR because I would not go on a date with him so he got mad. is this invasion of privacy or what?

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