In various industries, decision-makers significantly affect the rights and interests of others. Despite the fact that they have may have regularly encountered aggressive and disgruntled people in the course of their roles, they frequently downplay the personal security risks that arise, reassuring themselves that they are “only doing their job” and that all affected people “will understand”. Further, people often assume that there is nothing they can do to overcome a requirement for their address to be publicly available information e.g. ASIC keeps a register of director addresses.

This alert examines the options available for suppressing personal information from publication and highlights the importance of applying for suppression as soon as a security risk develops.  

How can people find my home address?  

In today’s culture of social media and location services, it’s easy to forget that personal details are accessible via more old-fashioned means.  

For example:

  • Landgate records personal information in respect of interests in land and grants of power of attorney;
  • ASIC records personal information in respect of directors and secretaries;
  • the Australian Electoral Office records personal information in respect of registered voters; and
  • local governments record personal information in respect of their ratepayers.

Any member of the public may be able to access the above registers and easily discover personal information like your home address, your partner’s name and other personal information.  

How can I suppress my home address from publication?  

Any person concerned that publishing their address could put their safety (or the safety of the members of their household) at risk can apply to suppress their address from publication.  

The safety concern must be specific and detailed in supporting evidence. An application will not succeed if it is based only on a generalised safety concern or a desire for privacy. For example, an application based only on the potential safety issues that may arise in the course of your occupation is unlikely to succeed. Your application needs to detail a specific concern.  

Accordingly, it makes sense to apply to suppress your address as soon as you have the opportunity to do so i.e. once you are aware of a specific safety risk and regardless of your view of its seriousness.  

Early action may be critical if a situation escalates, or if a new safety risk materialises some time in the future (at which time, it may be too late to take action in time).  

If you are concerned that your safety could be put at risk because your address is public, consider taking the following action:

  • Apply to the Australian Electoral Commission to become a silent voter. You must explain why you believe that having your address on the electoral roll would put your or your family's safety at risk.
  • Apply to ASIC to suppress your address and list an alternative address instead on its registers. If you are on the electoral roll, ASIC requires that the Australian Electoral Commission has granted you “silent voter” status.
  • Homeowners:
    • Apply to Landgate (in respect of Western Australia) to suppress your address on the land titles register. Note that a new suppression application must be lodged with Landgate each time you register a new interest in future.
    • Contact your local government authority to request that your residential address is not available on publicly available ratepayer or residents records.
  • Consider any other public registers or records that may publish your home address, for example:
    • telephone listings;
    • petitions signed by you;
    • statutory declarations signed by you;
    • the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission register; and
    • donation registers.
  • Consider whether any relatives or members of your household ought to take the above measures, regardless of whether they share your surname.

And what about social media?  

Social media is now a potentially powerful tool for finding people who otherwise are not easily located thorough publicly available searches. Status updates, location pins, hashtags and photographs are all valuable sources of personal information.  

In addition, the security settings for social media accounts change frequently, often without notice and often to the surprise of the security-conscious user.  

If you do not wish to close your social media accounts despite your security concerns, consider taking the following measures to protect your privacy and security:

  • maintain separate “public/work” and “personal” accounts;
  • for your personal account — choose a user name and account name that does not disclose your identity;
  • review your account’s security settings:
    • control the amount and type of information you share;
    • limit access to your information to verified contacts; and
    • disable location services.
  • link your personal social media accounts to a personal email address, rather than a public work email address (an email address is allegedly how Mark Latham was unmasked as the person operating an offensive but unverified Twitter account); and
  • do not post personal information without considering the associated risk e.g. full or partial date of birth, address, telephone numbers or information about your daily routine or holiday plans).

In view of the criteria for suppressing address information on public registers, we anticipate that, in future, decisions on suppression applications are likely to take into account evidence of the applicant using social media in a manner inconsistent with guarding against a safety risk.