In the digital age, privacy and freedom of information for businesses are more important than ever.
In Australia, substantial amendments to the Commonwealth Privacy Act came into effect in March 2014, which gives consumers rights and businesses corresponding responsibilities in relation to personal information. There are also some state and territory based information (including health) privacy laws. In addition, the Freedom of Information laws ensure businesses and individuals can seek access to government information, promoting transparency and accountability.
The Privacy Act is the primary means of privacy protection in Australia.
It contains 13 Australian Privacy Principles (APPs) that broadly set out how both private sector organisations and public sector agencies should use, disclose and handle personal information.
These provide individuals with a general right to know what information an entity holds concerning them and a right to correct that information.
There are also some restrictions with respect to entities using personal information for direct marketing purposes and sending such information overseas.
Currently, entities are subject to an exemption in respect of information held about employees. Additionally, entities have privacy obligations, including credit reporting requirements and tax file number requirements.
Recent amendments to the Privacy Act have provided the Federal Privacy Commissioner with enhanced functions and powers, including the power to seek enforceable undertakings from an entity or civil penalties of up to A$1.7 million for serious or repeated interferences with privacy.
The federal Freedom of Information Act and various state legislation grants the right to every person to access certain information in the possession of the government and its agencies. The legislation requires government agencies to publish information about their operations and powers affecting members of the public as well as manuals and other documents used in making decisions and recommendations affecting the public.
Government agencies are also required to provide access to documents in their possession unless the document is exempt from disclosure under the legislation.
Exemptions exist where it is necessary for the protection of the public interest and for the protection of the private and business affairs of persons and organisations.