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Protecting your privacy in Australia : A Guide

Personal information and privacy is a concern for many people. In this modern day and age information is a valuable commodity and a company’s clientele database is arguably one of the most important assets to the company. Facebook itself is valued at over USD$10 billion! However for most people their concern is for the protection of their personal information and what their obligations are to disclose information.

The information in this article is for general purposes only and should not be relied on as specific legal advice. Should you have any particular questions please contact your solicitor or contact the author directly.

Privacy in AustraliaThe main legislation in this area is the Privacy Act 1988 (Commonwealth), and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner administers the Act. There are a number of steps that a person can take to safeguard their privacy and make sure that their personal information is being protected.

Privacy Policies and Privacy Act Obligations

Many organisations have privacy policies that are available for public viewing. These privacy policies detail how the organisation handles your personal information as well as their obligations in handling your personal information. A majority of the obligations commonly contained in privacy policies are contained in the Privacy Act 1988 and it is often a good idea as well to be aware of the obligations contained in the Privacy Act and the National Privacy Principles. The National Privacy Principles can be found here.

Providing Personal Information

The National Privacy Principles state that an organisation must not collect personal information unless the information is necessary for one or more of its functions or activities. If you think that information is being asked of you which is not required, you should consider why such information is being sought after.

You should only give out as much personal information as you need to. You are not obliged to provide personal information to an organisation, however be aware that the failure to provide information to an organisation may affect the level of service of the organisation provides to you or even the organisation’s decision to provide services to you.

In certain situations you may be compelled by Court to provide information (personal or otherwise). Failure to provide information in these circumstances may be treated as contempt of Court.

Use of Personal Information

The National Privacy Principles generally state that an organisation must not use or disclose personal information about an individual for a purpose other than the primary purpose of collecting that information. There are certain circumstances which allow the organisation to use the information collected outside of the primary purpose.

Access to Personal Information

The National Privacy Principles provide a general right to access to personal information that you have provided. The Privacy Act provides certain exceptions to that right, however if you are being denied access to your personal information you should always ask why you are being denied access and on what grounds are you being denied access to your personal information.

If you are dealing with a governmental organisation, you may choose to make a Freedom of Information request to that organisation.

Online Privacy

Most of the above principles apply when dealing with organisations based in Australia – however please be aware that the internet crosses over boundaries and jurisdictions and the Privacy Act will not apply to organisations based out of Australia.

There are a great number of things that you can do to protect your privacy online; however the most important is making sure that you have adequate security protecting your computer. This includes installing anti-spyware, anti-virus programs, and firewalls. Be wary of e-mail fraud or downloading files from unsecured and unverified sources.


The Spam Act 2003 deals with spam and generally specifies that unsolicited commercial e-mails must not be sent. It also states that commercial e-mails must include information about the organisation sending the mail as well as a functional unsubscribe facility. In addition to this, software that “harvests” e-mail addresses must not be used and it is illegal to sell or acquire databases obtained from these types of software. You can make complaints about spam with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

Personal Privacy

In Australia there exists no general right or legislation in relation to personal privacy. Some protection may be found under defamation and trespass laws however generally there exists no laws prohibiting a person taking photographs of you or your family from outside your property. The Privacy Act deals with the collection and storage of personal information, it does not deal with matters like these.

Privacy remains a relevant and important part of the law, and it will be interesting to see how it may progress or proceed especially considering the rise of the digital age.

About the author

Kenneth Ti is an Associate Solicitor with Phang Legal and a graduate from the University of New South Wales. He has a background in financial services and insurance and has interest in a wide range of legal areas including Commercial and Civil matters and Intellectual Property. Kenneth is a strong believer in community services and pro bono work.

About Phang Legal

Phang Legal is a progressive and dynamic law firm offering a different attitude to the practice of law and a different approach to the delivery of legal services. The firm continues to honour the traditions and standards of the legal profession, while remaining current and relevant to ever changing client requirements and expectations. Phang Legal provides cost effective and practical solutions across a wide range of practice areas including conveyancing and property law, corporate and commercial law, litigation and dispute resolution, wills and estates (elders law), legal aid and criminal law, and notary public services.

Contact Details
6/83 George Street, Parramatta NSW 2150 AU
Telephone: +61 2 9687 8885
Web: www.phanglegal.com.au

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Kenneth Ti

Kenneth Ti

Kenneth Ti is an Associate Solicitor with Phang Legal (http://www.phanglegal.com.au). He has a background in financial services and insurance, and is focused on commercial and intellectual property matters. Kenneth is a strong believer in small business, the community, and pro bono work. Follow Kenneth Ti at @kennethti and Phang Legal at @phanglegal.

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