Chapters

The Commonwealth Privacy Act 1988 lays down strict privacy safeguards which Commonwealth (federal) and Australian Capital Territory (ACT) government agencies must observe when collecting, storing, using and disclosing personal information. The Act also gives individuals access and correction rights in relation to their own personal information. The Act also creates the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.

The Act only applies to the wider community, including the private sector and state and local governments, in relation to specific categories of information: tax file number information, and consumer credit information. Other Commonwealth laws contain privacy provisions relating to information about health insurance claims, data matching, information about old criminal convictions. and personal information disclosed by telecommunications companies.

Privacy issues arise in a wide range of areas and circumstances. Privacy legislation deals mainly with information privacy – the handling of personal information. Other privacy issues include video surveillance, telephone interception or ‘bugging’, and physical intrusion into private spaces which often fall under criminal procedure legislation. The Privacy Commissioner’s office can provide general advice.

The Privacy Act has a number of major concerns which include protecting the personal information collected by Commonwealth Government departments and agencies; ensuring that Tax File Numbers (TFNs) are collected and used only for tax-related purposes; ensuring that an individual’s personal credit information is correctly managed and that personal privacy is not infringed; and the Act also gives people rights in relation to how their personal information is handled by many private sector organisations.

The private sector provisions of the Privacy Act aim to give people greater control over the way information about them is handled in the private sector by requiring organisations to comply with ten National Privacy Principles (NPPs), which are listed in the Privacy Principles section.

In summary, organisations now must take reasonable steps to make individuals aware that it is collecting personal information about them, the purposes for which it is collecting the information, and who it might pass the information on to.  There are some restrictions on the uses an organisation can make of personal information and on when an organisation can disclose personal information or transfer it overseas.

The Privacy Commissioner/The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner

Recent changes have seen an overlap between the websites of the Privacy Commissioner and the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC). The functions of the Privacy Commissioner have been integrated into the OAIC, incorporating both Freedom of Information and Privacy issues into one office. Their contact details are available online.

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