Restrictions on Record Collecting
In the US, the government has strict guidelines on how much information can be collected about its citizens. Certain classes of information have been restricted by laws over time, and the advent of digital tools has made these restrictions more important than ever.
Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act
Websites that are collecting information from children under the age of thirteen are required to comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). To comply with COPPA, organizations must make a good-faith effort to determine the age of those accessing their websites and, if users are under thirteen years old, must obtain parental consent before collecting any information.
Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a US law that protects the privacy of student education records. In brief, this law specifies that parents have a right to their child’s educational information until the child reaches either the age of eighteen or begins attending school beyond the high school level. At that point, control of the information is given to the child. While this law is not specifically about the digital collection of information on the Internet, the educational institutions that are collecting student information are at a higher risk for disclosing it improperly because of digital technologies.
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is the law the specifically singles out records related to health care as a special class of personally identifiable information. This law gives patients specific rights to control their medical records, requires health care providers and others who maintain this information to get specific permission in order to share it, and imposes penalties on the institutions that breach this trust. Since much of this information is now shared via electronic medical records, the protection of those systems becomes paramount.
Sidebar: Do Not Track
When it comes to getting permission to share personal information, the US and the EU have different approaches. In the US, the “opt-out” model is prevalent; in this model, the default agreement is that you have agreed to share your information with the organization and must explicitly tell them that you do not want your information shared. There are no laws prohibiting the sharing of your data (beyond some specific categories of data, such as medical records). In the European Union, the “opt-in” model is required to be the default. In this case, you must give your explicit permission before an organization can share your information.
To combat this sharing of information, the Do Not Track initiative was created. As its creators explain:
Do Not Track is a technology and policy proposal that enables users to opt out of tracking by websites they do not visit, including analytics services, advertising networks, and social platforms. At present few of these third parties offer a reliable tracking opt out, and tools for blocking them are neither user-friendly nor comprehensive. Much like the popular Do Not Call registry, Do Not Track provides users with a single, simple, persistent choice to opt out of third-party web tracking.