The Privacy Act should be seen as a comprehensive attempt to protect the legitimate privacy interests of the individuals on whom Federal agencies collect and maintain information. As we have seen, it attempts to achieve this goal through the dual thrust of granting rights and imposing obligations--rights for the individual, obligations for the agencies.
Another way of viewing the Privacy Act is to see it as establishing a "code of fair information practices." The code sets standards that each Federal agency must meet as it collects, maintains, and uses information on individuals. It establishes the role of Federal agencies as stewards, rather than owners of the information they possess. Although Federal agencies have control over the information, the code of fair information practices clearly establishes that these agencies are not free to collect, use and disclose information as they please. The responsibility of stewardship requires care and fairness in the way information is collected and held, commitment that those who have the rights to this information will be given access to it, and vigilance to protect the information from those who have no legitimate use for it.