1 A quick guide to the changes
The Privacy Act 1988 (Privacy Act) was amended by the Privacy Amendment (Enhancing Privacy Protection) Bill 2012. The amendments took effect on 12 March 2014.
The amendments generally add provisions and corresponding compliance obligations. Two Parts of the Privacy Act are completely replaced.
Part IIIA of the Privacy Act, dealing with credit reporting, is replaced in full by new credit information provisions. There are important changes to the current framework as to credit information policies, the collection and recording of credit related information, and disclosure of credit related information to overseas entities. Banks, retail businesses that issue credit cards, entities who carry on businesses which substantially involve the provision of credit, suppliers of goods and services on credit/payment terms, equipment lessors and hire purchase credit providers are ‘credit providers’ and must comply with the new framework. That framework is then expanded through a revised Credit Reporting Privacy Code prepared by the Australian Retail Credit Association, registered by the Australian Privacy Commissioner (Commissioner) on 22 January 2014 (following a lengthy consultation period) and also taking effect on 12 March 2014 (available at http://www.oaic.gov.au/privacy/applying-privacy- law/privacy-registers/credit-reporting-privacy-code).
The National Privacy Principles (NPPs) (for private entities) and Information Privacy Principles (IPPs) (for government entities) are replaced with a single regime of privacy principles, the Australian Privacy Principles (APPs) (available at (http://www.oaic.gov.au/privacy/privacy-resources/privacy-fact- sheets/other/privacy-fact-sheet-17-australian-privacy-principles), which generally (but not universally) apply to government agencies and private organisations alike.
specific kinds of personal information that the entity collects and holds and how it is collected and held;
purposes (both primary and secondary) for which the entity collects, holds, uses and discloses personal information;
how an individual may access personal information about the individual that is held by the entity and seek the correction of such information;
how an individual may complain about a breach of the APPs or an applicable registered APP code; and
how the entity will deal with a complaint (entities will also need to ensure that internal procedures are implemented consistently with this description, including by appropriate training of staff).
Other changes include:
APP 2 (anonymity and pseudonyms), which provides that where practicable individuals must not be required to disclose their identity and may use a pseudonym. Previously there was only the requirement to provide an option of anonymity: the requirement to allow the use of pseudonyms (where practicable) is new;
APP 4 (unsolicited personal information), which provides that where an entity receives unsolicited personal information that it could not have obtained through solicited means on reasonable terms, the entity must destroy the information;
APP 5 (notification of collecting personal information), which is much more prescriptive than the former provision dealing with this subject matter, NPP 1. At or before the time information is collected, or if that is not practicable, as soon as practicable after information is collected, the collecting entity must ensure that it informs an affected individual of certain matters, including that the information has been collected; the purpose of collection; the consequences for the individual if the information is not collected; the procedure to complain about or amend information and any third parties that the information may be disclosed to; and
APP 7 (direct marketing), which increases requirements for informed user consent in relation to direct marketing. Entities must have a simple means by which an individual can readily request not to receive direct marketing from the entity and ensure that personal information about the individual is not provided to third parties for the purpose of direct marketing.
Probably the most controversial and least understood change is new section 16C and APP 8 (disclosure to overseas entities).
From March 2014, the Commissioner’s investigative and enforcement powers are significantly enhanced. Powers will include a right for the Commissioner to seek a Court injunction against a person engaging in conduct that may contravene the Privacy Act, to obtain enforceable undertakings by a person that has breached the Privacy Act, and to seek the making by a Federal Court of civil
penalty orders where there is either a serious or repeated interference with the privacy of an individual.
These and other changes taking effect from March 2014 or otherwise mooted are examined in more detail in later sections of this paper.
On 21 February 2014 the Commissioner released the Australian Privacy Principles (APP) Guidelines (available at http://www.oaic.gov.au/privacy/applying-privacy-law/app-guidelines/). As stated by the Commissioner, “The APP guidelines outline the mandatory requirements of the APPs, how the OAIC will interpret the APPs, and matters we may take into account when exercising functions and powers under the Privacy Act”. These Guidelines are therefore of significant interest as an expression of the Commissioner’s interpretation of key provisions of the Privacy Act. The Commissioner’s Guidelines are not given any legislative status. However, the Guidelines may influence subsequent judicial interpretation of relevant provisions that are subject to guidance. It is interesting to note in this regard that in some cases the explanation of the intended operation of certain provisions of the amending Act that is given in the Explanatory Memorandum to the amending Act and also referred to in the Guidelines does not appear to conform to a plain reading of corresponding provisions of the amending Act. Issues of interpretation are therefore likely to arise.
2 Australian privacy framework and coverage
The use of 'personal information' (sometimes referred to as ‘personally identifying information’ or ‘PI’) in Australia is primarily regulated by the Privacy Act 1988. This is a federal Act administered by the Federal Attorney-General. The Privacy Commissioner is integrated within the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) (www.oaic.gov.au).
The amendments to the Privacy Act commencing on 12 March 2014 substantially increase the level of federal privacy regulation and powers and sanctions of the federal enforcement agency. The following discussion focusses on the APPs as they will apply to organisations from 12 March 2014. Note that the rules applicable to government agencies (as distinct from private sector organisations) differ in important matters of detail that are outside the scope of this review.
The Privacy Act is drafted in less prescriptive terms than European legislation. It does not use the European concepts of 'data owner', 'data controller’ or 'data processor'. The Privacy Act does use other terms and concepts that are similarly used in other national privacy laws. However, the Privacy Act differs in varying respects to all other national privacy laws, including national laws in other APEC countries including Singapore, Malaysia and New Zealand. For this reason caution should be exercised when considering examples of regulatory action in other jurisdictions, even where the relevant terms used in the legislation appear to be similar. Also, privacy jurisprudence in other jurisdictions, particularly in the European Union, is often influenced by constitutional or human rights laws that do not affect consideration of Australian privacy law. European privacy regulation also places significant reliance upon use of standardised contractual terms and rulings as to the adequacy of levels of protection of privacy under particular foreign jurisdictions for cross-border data transfers. These concepts are not generally used in Australian privacy law.
Further complexities arise through the longevity of Australian privacy law when measured in internet time. Although the amendments to the Privacy Act commencing on 12 March 2014 are significant, these amendments were developed from an Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) review into the Privacy Act that was completed in May 2008. That review predated important technological and business developments including availability of tablet and mobile apps, broad adoption of social networking services, extensive use of data hosting services, delivery of software applications as a service (often provided from overseas and sometimes transient and indeterminate locations), extensive use of geo-location services, online behavioral advertising and ‘big data’ based customer data analytics. Each of these developments challenge traditional privacy concepts of territorial based
regulation and informed user consent based upon privacy statements and privacy notices. In September 2013 the Privacy Commissioner developed a guide for app developers to embed better privacy practices in their products and services and to help developers operate in the Australian market in accordance to Australian privacy law. However, mobile and tablet apps were not considered in the ALRC review and the international rollout of apps and delivery of app based services creates fundamental difficulties in application of national privacy regulation such as the Australian Act. Compounding the problem, the Privacy Act has sketchy geographical and jurisdictional nexus provisions that are difficult to interpret and apply in relation to internet delivered services provided across national borders. Frequently, jurisdictional questions cannot be clearly answered and the laws of multiple jurisdictions must be applied.
The Privacy Act is intended to, at least partly, implement Australia’s privacy obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and to give effect to the OECD Guidelines on the Protection of Privacy and Transborder Flows of Personal Data. However, international law has had limited influence on the development of Australian privacy jurisprudence. Also, and as at January2014, there is no right of individuals in Australia conferred by international law or the Australian Constitution that protects an individual’s seclusion or other ‘rights’ of privacy. Nor is there a common law or other general legal right of protection from invasion of privacy. Although some Australian court dicta supports the possibility of the development of a tortious cause of action for serious invasion of personal privacy, on current Australian law the availability of that right, and availability of practical and effective remedies to enforce it, is highly questionable. There has been an active debate in Australia as to whether there should be a statutory cause of action for serious invasion of personal privacy and, if so, as to the appropriate remedies and enforcement mechanisms. That debate had been significantly influenced by concerns that investigative journalism could be significantly constrained by any private right of action in privacy. In June 2013, the then Australian Attorney-General commissioned the ALRC to conduct an inquiry into the protection of privacy in the digital era. The Terms of Reference require the ALRC to report by June 2014 and to make recommendations regarding, among other things, the legal design of a statutory cause of action for serious invasions of privacy, including legal thresholds; the effect of the implied freedom of political communication; jurisdiction; fault elements; proof of damages; defences; exemptions and access to justice. The ALRC’s Discussion Paper, including its draft recommendations, is expected to be released in early March 2014.
Practical remedies for Australians adversely affected by privacy invasive practices of businesses may also be available through the operation of binding APP codes and other binding sector-specific codes with privacy provisions. These include codes regulating broadcasting and the print media, the banking and financial services sectors and the provision of telecommunications services (including internet access services) to Australian consumers.
3 Overview of the federal Privacy Act
Under the Australian federal system, the Privacy Act applies to the handling of personal information by the Australian federal government and its agencies and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) government and its agencies. The federal Privacy Act also governs the private sector, including corporations and other businesses, but (subject to important exceptions) only operates where annual Australian revenue of the Australian group business is greater than AU$3 million.
Organisations and agencies are collectively referred to as 'APP entities'. Many provisions of the Privacy Act apply to all APP entities, but some apply only to agencies, and some only to organisations.
The Privacy Act defines ‘organisation’ broadly to include an individual, body corporate, partnership, trust or any unincorporated association.
The APPs are arranged in the order of the personal information lifecycle, from collection, to use, to disclosure, to retention. They are not lengthy, but their interpretation can be complex. The Commissioner’s new Guidelines as to their interpretation and operation of the APPs run to over two hundred pages. As already noted, some APPs draw distinctions between organisations and agencies, while otherwise applying to all APP entities. Some APPs require different and higher standards in relation to the sub-category of personal information that is sensitive personal information.
Subject to those qualifications, the coverage of the APPs is summarised below:
APP 1 — Open and transparent management of personal information
APP entities (that is, entities regulated by the Australian privacy laws) must manage personal information in an open and transparent way.
‘Transparent’ is not defined, but as used in the Australian Consumer Law a contractual term is ‘transparent’ if it is expressed in reasonably plain language, legible, presented clearly and readily available to the person affected by the term. The positive obligation for organisations to implement practices, procedures and systems to ‘manage’ personal information has been interpreted as requiring implementation of privacy assurance practices and procedures – sometimes called 'Privacy by Design'
- into business processes and products.
APP 2 — Anonymity and pseudonymity
APP entities must give individuals the option of not identifying themselves, or of using a pseudonym. Limited exceptions apply.
APP 3 — Collection of solicited personal information
Outlines when an APP entity can collect personal information that is solicited by the entity.
APP 3 applies higher standards to the collection of ‘sensitive’ information, such as health information.
APP 4 — Dealing with unsolicited personal information
Outlines how APP entities must deal with unsolicited personal information.
APP 5 — Notification of the collection of personal information
Outlines when and in what circumstances an APP entity that collects personal information must notify an individual of certain matters.
APP 1 and APP 5 together set out quite prescriptively those things that need to be notified to an individual in relation to any collection of personal information about that individual.
Special requirements apply where personal information about an individual is collected from anyone other than the affected individual.
APP 6 — Use or disclosure of personal information
Outlines the circumstances in which an APP entity may use or disclose personal information that it holds.
APP 7 — Direct marketing
An organisation may only use or disclose personal information for direct marketing purposes if certain conditions are met. Broadly, direct marketing:
is use or disclosure of personal information to communicate directly with an individual to promote goods and services;
may only be undertaken where an individual would reasonably expect it, such as with informed consent;
must provide a prominent statement about a simple means to opt out;
must be stopped when an individual opts-out.
APP 8 — Cross-border disclosure of personal information
Outlines the steps an APP entity must take to protect personal information before it is disclosed to any other entity (including related entities) overseas.
APP 9 — Adoption, use or disclosure of government related identifiers
Outlines the limited circumstances when an organisation may adopt a government related identifier of an individual as its own identifier, or use or disclose a government related identifier of an individual.
Examples of government related identifiers are divers licence numbers, Medicare numbers, Australian passport numbers and Centrelink reference numbers.
APP 10 — Quality of personal information
An APP entity must take reasonable steps to ensure the personal information it collects is accurate, up to date and complete. An entity must also take reasonable steps to ensure the personal information it uses or discloses is accurate, up to date, complete and relevant, having regard to the purpose of the use or disclosure.
APP 11 — Security of personal information
An APP entity must take reasonable steps to protect personal information it holds from misuse, interference and loss, and from unauthorised access, modification or disclosure.
An entity has obligations to destroy or de-identify personal information in certain circumstances.
APP 12 — Access to personal information
An APP entity must provide access when an individual requests to be given access to personal information held about them by the entity.
Some limited, specific exceptions apply.
APP 13 — Correction of personal information
An APP entity must correct information held by it about an individual in response to a reasonable request by an affected individual.
Under the Privacy Act as amended from March 2014, industry groups or sectors may develop privacy codes of practice - so-called 'APP codes' - for review and possible registration by Office of the Australian Information Commissioner. If accepted for registration (and then in like manner to ACMA Codes) an APP Code becomes binding upon organisations within the industry sector specified in the Code. In other words, a Code once registered binds not only initial or later signatories to the Code, but also binds organisations within the industry sector to which the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner designates the Code applies. To date, only a small number of such codes have been approved, including in particular the Credit Reporting Privacy Code issued under the Privacy Act. It is expected that other industry codes will be now developed and registered with the OAIC.
4 Other privacy laws
The Privacy Act does not regulate the handling of personal information by Australian state or territory governments and their agencies, except to a very limited extent. Some Australian states and territories have enacted privacy statutes containing data protection principles broadly similar to the federal privacy principles that, in general, are enforced by State officers styled ‘Privacy Commissioners’ or similar. These state and territory laws govern acts and practices of the respective Australian state or territory government and its agencies. In some cases these statutes also govern handling by the private sector on behalf of the government or its agency of personal information collected by the government or its agencies. In addition, some Australian state and territory jurisdictions have legislation that extends to private sector handling of particular categories of sensitive personal information collected directly by the private sector. One example is the State of Victoria’s Health Records Act 2001, which regulates health related Information about individuals that is collected in the State of Victoria. Regulation of workplace surveillance and surveillance in public places, use of tracking devices, geo-tracking and recording technologies is currently principally state based and diverse.
Certain criminal laws also provide protection for individuals from intrusions about their right to seclusion, including in particular laws on unauthorised access to computer systems, electronic stalking and harassment, and unauthorised audio-visual capture of sexual activity, also regulate and protect privacy. Handling of telecommunications customer data is subject to sector specific regulation, principally through the Telecommunications Act 1997, a federal Act. The Telecommunications Act 1997 is administered by the Federal Minister for Communications and by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). The ACMA also administers Codes registered under the Telecommunications Act 1997 that, once registered by the ACMA, become binding upon the section of the telecommunications industry to which the code relates. The Telecommunications Consumer Protection Code 2012 is an important legally binding instrument that regulates the handling
of customer data by Australian telecommunications carriers and carriage service providers. The federal Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979, administered by the Federal Attorney-General, regulates interception of telecommunications (including email) traffic and access to stored communications held on email and other servers in Australia that are controlled by Australian licensed telecommunications carriers.
There are other industry specific codes that include privacy protective provisions that have varying levels of enforceability and sanctions. Perhaps the most important are the broadcasting codes of practice administered by the ACMA which may be contravened where a television or radio broadcaster broadcasts material that is a serious invasion of an individual’s privacy. The Australian Press Council administers a code of practice as to print media and its associated electronic outlets, which is contravened where a Council member publishes material that is a serious invasion of an individual’s privacy. Other industry sectors deal with customer privacy in industry codes, including the Banking Industry Code of Practice and the Insurance Industry Code of Practice.
The Australian Guideline for Online Behavioural Advertising is a self-regulatory guideline for third party online behavioural (interactive) advertising. The guideline regulates sharing of information between signatories to the guideline and third parties that would enable third parties to serve behavioural advertising to an internet user. In such a circumstance user consent and provision of a ready means for an individual to opt-out is required, regardless of whether personal information is disclosed by code signatory to the third party and regardless of whether cookies or other tracking technologies are used. The guideline prescribes the relevant requirements.
5 Enforcement of the Privacy Act
As already noted, the Privacy Act is administered by the Commissioner within the OAIC. The OAIC is responsible for enforcing compliance with the Privacy Act and reviewing proposed privacy codes. This involves investigating instances of non-compliance by agencies and organisations and prescribing remedies to redress non-compliance. The terms 'Privacy Commissioner' and 'OAIC' are often used interchangeably.
There are criminal penalties under the Privacy Act for unauthorised access to and disclosure of credit reporting PI. If, during an investigation, the Commissioner forms the opinion that these offences (and certain others under other Acts) may have been committed, he or she must refer the matter to the Australian federal police.
Criminal sanctions also apply to the unauthorised disclosure of PI during an emergency or disaster situation. The Australian federal police would investigate such offences.
The Commissioner has the power to investigate on his or her own motion, or in response to a complaint (from an individual or a class), acts and practices of organisations that may breach the APPs. In conducting investigations, the Commissioner must follow a prescribed process. The Commissioner can require the production of documents and information, and may also require people to appear and answer questions.
The Commissioner may make a non-binding determination following investigation of a complaint where there has been a breach of the APPs. The Commissioner may determine that the conduct must not be repeated; that the agency or organisation must take action to redress the loss or damage caused; or that the complainant is entitled to a specified amount of compensation. The Commissioner
may also dismiss the complaint or decide to take no further action. If it is necessary to enforce the Commissioner’s determination, action must be taken in the Federal Courts.
From March 2014, the Commissioner also has a power to seek a Court injunction against a person engaging in conduct that may contravene the Privacy Act, to obtain enforceable undertakings by a person that has breached the Privacy Act, and to seek the making by a federal court of civil penalty orders where there is either a serious or repeated interference with the privacy of an individual. A civil penalty order may require a body corporate to pay up to $1.7 million. A civil penalty is a pecuniary penalty imposed by a court according to civil (as opposed to criminal) processes. It is expected that the new power to accept court enforceable undertakings from organisations will be used to gain agreement from organisations that experience data breaches to implement privacy compliance programmes and change existing information security and information handling practices. This power to accept court enforceable undertakings is similar to that enjoyed, and frequently used, by the ACCC under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 and by the ACMA under the Spam Act 2003 and the Do Not Call Register Act 2006.
The Commissioner’s new enforcement powers are summarised in the following diagram:
In many cases there is parallel and potentially concurrent operation of federal law, state and territory law and industry codes of practice. This sometimes leads to simultaneous and sometimes coordinated enforcement action by multiple regulators, such as the OAIC and the ACMA. This has been the case on multiple occasions in relation to misuse of telecommunications customer data. Overlap may also arise in respect of other sectors. For example, a health PI data breach in Victoria may be handled by both the Victorian Health Services Commissioner and the Australian Privacy Commissioner.
6 Exempt sectors and institutions
The Privacy Act does not apply to the collection, holding, use, disclosure or transfer of PI by an individual for the purposes of, or in connection with, the individual’s personal, family or household affairs.
While the Privacy Act applies to many private and public sector organisations and agencies, certain entities are excluded from the Act’s coverage. These include small business operators (generally, operators of businesses with an annual Australian turnover (determined on a corporate group basis) of less than A$3 million), registered political parties, organisations that are individuals acting in a non- business capacity, organisations acting under a state contract, employer organisations acting in respect of employee records and the Australian intelligence agencies.
The Privacy Act deals with employee records of public sector and private sector employees differently. The handling of personal information by a private sector employer is exempt from the Privacy Act if it is directly related to a current or former employment relationship or an employee record. The effect is that a private sector employer does not need to comply with the APPs when it handles current and past employee records, or grant a current or former access to the employee record about them. However, the employee records exemption relates to private sector organisations only: Australian, ACT and Norfolk Island government employee records are covered by the Privacy Act.
An act or practice is not an interference with privacy if it consists of the collection or disclosure of personal information by a body corporate from or to a ‘related body corporate’. Before an organisation can rely on this exemption to disclose (non-sensitive) personal information to other related companies, it must take reasonable steps to ensure that the individual knows that the organisation has collected the information, the use that will be made of the information and the types of organisations to which the information is usually disclosed. In addition, although related companies may share personal information, the handling of that information is still subject to the APPs in all other respects. For example, each company within the group of related companies must only use the information for the primary purpose for which it was originally collected, and may only use the personal information for a secondary purpose permitted for the collecting organisation.
This partial exemption for related bodies corporate also does not apply in a range of circumstances, including (but not only) the collection or disclosure of ‘sensitive information’; the collection of personal information from an entity that is exempt from the Privacy Act; where the company is a contractor under a Commonwealth contract and; the collection or disclosure of personal information from or to the related company is contrary to a contractual provision; and where the collection of personal information is for the purpose of meeting an obligation under the contract and the disclosure is for direct marketing purposes.
The journalistic activities of media organisations are exempt from the Privacy Act to the extent that such organisations publicly commit to observe published privacy standards (such as industry codes of practice). Currently, both print and broadcast media in Australia are required to adhere to principles and industry codes of practice that contain privacy standards applicable to journalistic activities, respectively the Australian Press Council’s Statement of Privacy Principles and a number of broadcast television and radio Industry Codes of Practice administered by the ACMA. The area of media and convergent services regulation, including the effectiveness of media self-regulatory schemes, has been the subject of considerable controversy and a number of government reviews over recent years. It is likely that privacy regulation in the media sector will significantly change in the foreseeable future.
Further privacy reform, including as to the coverage exemptions, is likely. The ALRC recommended the repeal of the coverage exemptions for small business, registered political parties and employee records. The previous Australian (Labor) government undertook to consider these recommendations:
it is unclear whether the current Australian coalition government will further consider the ALRC’s recommendations.
7 Communications, surveillance, marketing and other laws
As noted above, the Privacy Act does not expressly cover the interception of electronic communications or the monitoring and electronic surveillance of individuals. There are a number of subject matter specific federal and state laws governing telecommunications interception (including access to stored communications such as emails), employee, video and workplace surveillance, and use of recording devices, listening devices and tracking devices.
Electronic marketing is either regulated through subject matter specific federal laws governing spam and unsolicited marketing calls or by new APP 7 which regulates use or disclosure of PI for the purpose of direct marketing activities. APP 7 will not apply to the extent that any of the federal spam and unsolicited marketing calls laws apply to an organisation. Generally, organisations may only use or disclose personal information for direct marketing purposes where the individual has either consented to their personal information being used for direct marketing, or has a reasonable expectation that their personal information will be used for this purpose, and conditions relating to opt- out mechanisms are met. APP 7 generally prohibits the use and disclosure of PI for the purpose of direct marketing except in limited circumstances and then under specific conditions and applies more onerous obligations on organisations that direct market to non-existing customers.
Laws dealing with interception, monitoring and surveillance, and electronic marketing include the following:
Spam Act 2003 (Cth), which deals with the sending of unsolicited commercial electronic messages, including emails and SMS;
Do Not Call Register Act 2006 (Cth), regulating unsolicited commercial calling to telephone numbers listed on the national Do Not Call Register;
eMarketing Code of Practice, which contains rules and guidelines for the sending of commercial electronic messages. The Code is given legal effect by registration of that Code with the ACMA;
Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 (Cth), which among other things, regulates the interception of, and access to, stored communications by law enforcement agencies;
a range of federal and state and territory statutes governing the use of listening devices and workplace surveillance; and
a more limited range of federal and state and territory statutes governing the use of unauthorised video surveillance;
state and federal criminal law provisions dealing with unauthorised access to computer systems; and
the Australian Guideline for Third Party Online Behavioural Advertising.
The Spam Act prohibits ‘unsolicited commercial electronic messages’ with an ‘Australian link’ from being sent or caused to be sent. Commercial electronic messages may only be sent with an individual’s consent (express or implied in certain circumstances) and where the message contains accurate sender identification and a functional unsubscribe facility.
The Spam Act defines a ‘commercial electronic message’ as any electronic message (including e-mail, SMS, multimedia messages, instant messages or any other direct electronic messaging) where having regard to:
the content of the message;
the way in which the message is presented; and
content that can be accessed by following any links, phone numbers or contact information in the message,
it could be considered that a purpose, or one of the purposes, of the message is to:
offer, advertise or promote the supply of goods, services, land or business or investment opportunities;
advertise or promote a supplier of goods, services, land or a provider of business or investment opportunities; or
assist or enable a person to dishonestly obtain property, commercial advantage or other gain from another person.
Any electronic message that passes this test of commerciality is caught by the Spam Act (subject to certain exceptions). Commerciality may be a secondary purpose and the message is still caught: for example, a message that is mainly factual or useful information, but then has some marketing or promotional content.
A message has an ‘Australian link’ if it originates or was commissioned in Australia, or originates overseas, but was sent to an address accessed in Australia. The Spam Act expressly includes e- mails, SMS, instant messages and MMS. The Spam Act expressly excludes voice calls made using any technology and including synthetic or recorded calls (such as robocalls).
Voice calls, including synthetic or recorded calls (such as robocalls), are separately regulated under a ‘do not call’ regulatory framework established under the Do Not Call Register Act 2006 and associated legislation and instruments, including the important Telecommunications (Do Not Call Register) (Telemarketing and Research Calls) Industry Standard 2007.
Marketing faxes are regulated under the Do Not Call Register Act 2006. This Act provides an ‘opt-out’ framework for these forms of marketing. Unsolicited telemarketing calls or faxes must not be made to an Australian number registered on the Do Not Call -Register.
The Spam Act 2003 and the Do Not Call Register Act 2006 are administered by the ACMA. Extensive material as to the operation of these statutes and enforcement activity by the ACMA is available at www.acma.gov.au.
State and territory statutes dealing with interception, monitoring and surveillance laws vary substantially, both in scope of coverage and drafting. In particular, many computer crime and unauthorised access and surveillance provisions were not drafted with regard to current applications of the internet and mobile devices and are therefore difficult to interpret and apply.
Other specific data protection rules in areas related to privacy include:
Part 13 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth), which imposes restrictions on the use and disclosure of telecommunications and communications-related data;
state and territory privacy legislation, applying to personal information held by government agencies and, in some cases, health information and records (for example, the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1988 (NSW));
the Healthcare Identifiers Act 2010 (Cth), regulating (among other things) the use and disclosure of healthcare identifiers;
the Data-matching Program (Assistance and Tax) Act 1990 (Cth), which regulates federal government data-matching using tax file numbers;
the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records Act 2012 (Cth), which provides strict controls on the collection, use and disclosure of health information included in an individual’s eHealth record; and
federal and state/territory freedom of information legislation applying to information held by government agencies.
There is no legislation in Australia similar to the US Federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA), although COPPA principles are commonly applied in Australia as a matter of good corporate practice.
8 Personably identifying information
Generally, the Privacy Act covers all processing (in Australian terms, itself a 'use') or use of personal information.
The Act makes no express distinction between entities that control or own personal information, and those that provide services to owners (except in the case of contracted service providers to public- sector agencies). All such entities are regulated as APP entities in respect of their handling of personal information.
The definition of ‘personal information’ from March 2014 extends to information or an opinion about an individual who is reasonably identifiable, whether or not the information or opinion is recorded in a material form (this includes information communicated verbally) and regardless of whether that identification or re-identification is practicable from the information itself or in combination with or reference to other information.
Personal information will therefore include information about an individual whether collected or made available in a personal or business context and regardless of whether that information is in the public domain and the subject individual is specifically identified or consented for that information to enter the public domain.
Personal information remains such while ever identification or re-identification of an individual is ‘practicable’ either from the information itself or by reference to that information in combination with or by reference to other information. Privacy regulation operates up to the point at which personal information is transformed such that any risk that the information might either of itself or in combination with other information enable an individual to be identifiable becomes effectively impracticable. That transformation might be through aggregation or anonymisation of the personal information. Many organisations maintain multiple transaction databases, some of which may include personal information and some of which may include transaction data that does not identify a particular individual undertaking a transaction. These databases may be partitioned so that the non-identifying transactional database is not matched against the databases containing personal information. Partitioning of databases within organisations will be ineffective to allow non-identifying transactional data to be used without complying with the rules that relate to use of personal information, wherever
there is any way in which an individual could be matched and tied to non-identifying transaction data, because the individual remains ‘reasonably identifiable’. The Privacy Commissioner’s February 2014 Guidelines put it this way:
Whether a person is ‘reasonably identifiable’ is an objective test that has practical regard to the context in which the issue arises. Even though it may be technically possible to identify an individual from information, if doing so is so impractical that there is almost no likelihood of it occurring, the information would not generally be regarded as ‘personal information’. An individual may not be reasonably identifiable if the steps required to do so are excessively time- consuming or costly in all the circumstances.
Where it is unclear whether an individual is ‘reasonably identifiable’, an APP entity should err on the side of caution and treat the information as personal information.
This view reflects regulatory guidance in some jurisdictions to the effect that determination as to whether information is ‘personal information’ is to be made having regard to all relevant circumstances as to possible re-identification by any reasonably contemplated recipient, or as it is sometimes put, to be made ‘in the round’, rather than having regard to whether the information was passed to the first recipient in apparently de-identified form. In assessing the risk of re-identification, regulatory guidance in some jurisdictions suggests that risk management strategies – or as it is sometimes put, technical, operational and contractual safeguards – are to be taken into account. The United Kingdom regulator suggest a ‘motivated intruder’ test: this test considers whether a reasonably competent motivated person with no specialist skills would be able to identify the data or information, having access to resources such as the internet and all public documents and making reasonable enquiries to gain more information.
The Privacy Act applies to all acts or practices within Australia in respect of personal information about individuals wherever those individuals may reside.
Accordingly, personal information of persons outside Australia that is held on servers located within Australia is regulated by the Act.
The Act extends to any use outside Australia or disclosure from Australia of personal information that has been collected within Australia, although the extraterritorial application of the Act in this area is subject to some uncertainty.
The Act also applies to an act or practice wherever done outside Australia by an agency (broadly, an Australian federal government entity).
The Act also applies in relation to an act or practice outside Australia to an organisation or small business operator wherever that organisation or small business operator has a relevant 'Australian link'. A small business operator is regulated in relation to an act or practice outside Australia, but only to the extent similarly regulated in Australia.
In general, corporations incorporated in Australia and Australian incorporated or constituted bodies are deemed to have an Australian link.
Corporations and other bodies and agencies that do not fall into the above categories - broadly, any foreign corporation or body - will be regulated where (1) the organisation carries on business in Australia, and (2) the personal information was collected or held by the organisation in Australia, either before or at the time of the act or practice.
The collection of personal information ‘in Australia’ includes the collection of personal information from an individual who is physically within the borders of Australia, or an external territory, by an overseas entity. The Explanatory Memorandum to the Privacy Amendment (Enhancing Privacy Protection) Bill 2012 states that a collection is taken to have occurred ‘in Australia’ where an individual is physically located in Australia or an external Territory and personal information is collected from that individual via a website and the website is hosted outside of Australia and owned by a foreign company that is based outside of Australia and that is not incorporated in Australia’. The Explanatory Memorandum goes on to state that for the operation of the Act, entities such as those described in the last sentence who have an online presence (but no physical presence in Australia) and collect personal information from people who are physically in Australia, carry on a ‘business in Australia or an external Territory’. However, this interpretation is not supported by a plain reading of the Act and prior Australian jurisprudence (as to other statutory provisions) concerning carrying on business in Australia. Accordingly, the operation of the Privacy Act in this scenario (without other factors indicating business presence in Australia) should be considered currently uncertain and potentially contentious.
An overseas act or practice (that takes place outside Australia and its external Territories) act or practice will not breach the APPs, an approved APP Code, or interfere with an individual’s privacy, if the act or practice is required by an applicable foreign law. However, a similar act or practice within Australia pursuant to compulsion of an applicable foreign law is not excused from breach of the APPs or an approved APP Code, or from being an interference with an individual’s privacy.
It is also important to note that APP 8, which deals with the cross-border disclosure of personal information from Australia to outside Australia, is not limited in its application by the nationality of the individual whose PI is the subject of the transfer. In other words, APP 8 will apply to a cross-border disclosure of personal information collected in Australia, irrespective of whether the information relates to an Australian citizen or Australian resident or not.
10 Regulation of collection, use and disclosure of PI
The Privacy Act requires that the collection, use and disclosure of personal information must be justified on specific grounds.
APP 1 also introduces a positive obligation for organisations to implement practices, procedures and systems that will ensure compliance with the APPs and any registered APP codes. APP 1 requires organisations to have ongoing practices and policies in place to ensure that they manage personal information in an open and transparent way. ‘Transparent’ is not defined, but as used in the Australian Consumer Law a contractual term is ‘transparent’ if it is expressed in reasonably plain language, legible, presented clearly and readily available to the person affected by the term. The positive obligation for organisations to implement practices, procedures and systems has been suggested to require implementation of privacy assurance practices and procedures – so-called 'Privacy by Design' principles - into business processes and products.
APP 3 outlines when and how an organisation may collect personal and sensitive information that it solicits from an individual or another entity. An organisation must not collect personal information (other than sensitive information) unless the information is reasonably necessary for one or more of the organisation’s functions or activities.
APP 3 clarifies that, unless an exception applies, sensitive information must only be collected with an individual’s consent if the collection is also reasonably necessary for one or more of the organisation’s functions or activities.
An organisation must only collect personal information from the individual, unless it is unreasonable or impracticable to do so.
APP 4 creates obligations in relation to the receipt of personal information which is not solicited. Where an organisation receives unsolicited personal information, it must determine whether it would have been permitted to collect the information under APP 3. If so, APPs 5 to 13 will apply to that information. If the information could not have been collected under APP 3, the organisation must destroy or de-identify that information as soon as practicable, but only if it is lawful and reasonable to do so.
APP 5 specifies certain matters about which an organisation must generally make an individual aware, at the time, or as soon as practicable after, the organisation collects their personal information.
In addition to other matters listed in APPs 1.4 and 5.2, APP 5 requires organisations to notify individuals about the access, correction and complaints processes in their APP privacy policies, and also the location of any likely overseas recipients of individuals’ information.
APP 6 outlines the circumstances in which an organisation may use or disclose the personal information that it holds about an individual. If an organisation collects personal information about an individual for a particular purpose (the primary purpose), it must not use or disclose the information for another purpose (the secondary purpose) unless the individual consents to the use or disclosure, or another exception applies.
Additional protections apply to the collection, use and disclosure of a subcategory of PI called ‘sensitive information’, which the Privacy Act defines as information or an opinion about an individual’s:
racial or ethnic origin;
membership of a political association;
religious beliefs or affiliations;
membership of a professional or trade association;
membership of a trade union;
sexual orientation or practices; or
which is also personal information; and
health information about an individual;
genetic information about an individual that is not otherwise health information;
biometric information that is to be used for the purpose of automated biometric verification or biometric identification; or
An organisation must not collect an individual’s sensitive information unless an exception applies. Sensitive information may be collected about an individual with consent and if the information is reasonably necessary for one or more of the organisations activities or functions. Further, an organisation may collect sensitive information if required or authorised by or under an Australian law or a court/tribunal order or in certain permitted health situations, such as where the entity reasonably believes that the collection is necessary to lessen or prevent a serious threat to the life, health or safety of any individual or to public health or safety.
The Privacy Act also contains special provisions that apply to PI included in individuals’ credit information files or in credit reports, including information about an individual’s repayment history. These provisions also provide for consumer protection in relation to processes dealing with notification, data quality, access and correction and complaints.
The Act also provides for the making of guidelines by the Commissioner concerning the collection, storage, use and security of tax file number information. Compliance with the Tax File Number Guidelines is mandatory for all tax file number recipients.
APP 6 (Use and disclosure) generally restricts the use and disclosure of PI to the primary purpose for its collection or related secondary purposes within the exceptions discussed above. A user may consent to other uses or disclosures.
Further restrictions on the disclosure of credit-related PI are set out in the credit reporting provisions of the Act. Such disclosure restrictions include the following:
a credit reporting body must not disclose personal information contained in an individual’s credit information file to a third party unless one of the specified exceptions applies (such as where the information is contained in a credit report given to a credit provider for the purpose of assessing an application for credit by the individual); and
a credit provider must not disclose any PI in a credit report to a third party for any purpose (subject again to specified exceptions).
The Act also imposes specific restrictions on the transfer of PI outside Australia, as discussed below in section 20 (Cross-border transfer).
11 ‘Openness’ and Notification
APPs 1 and 5 impose 'openness' requirements in relation to collection of personal information.
Notification obligations arise under the Privacy Act at the point of collection of PI by an organisation, whether collected directly from the individual or obtained from a third party. If the organisation collects the personal information from someone other than the individual, or the individual may not be aware that the organisation has collected the personal information, it must also take reasonable steps to notify an individual, or otherwise ensure that the individual is aware:
that the organisation collects or has collected the information, and
of the circumstances of that collection (APP 5.2(b)).
the kinds of personal information that the entity collects and holds;
how the entity collects and holds personal information;
the purposes for which the entity collects, holds, uses and discloses personal information;
how an individual may access personal information about the individual that is held by the entity and seek the correction of such information;
how an individual may complain about a breach of the Australian Privacy Principles, or a registered APP code (if any) that binds the entity, and how the entity will deal with such a complaint;
whether the entity is likely to disclose personal information to overseas recipients
if the entity is likely to disclose personal information to overseas recipients—the countries in which such recipients are likely to be located if it is practicable to specify those countries in the policy.
More specific notification requirements are stated in APP 5. At or before the time or, if that is not practicable, as soon as practicable after, an APP entity collects personal information about an individual, the entity must take such steps as are reasonable in the circumstances to notify the individual of such matters referred to in subclause 5.2; or to otherwise ensure that the individual is aware of any such matters. The matters referred to in subclause 5.2 are:
the identity and contact details of the APP entity;
if the APP entity collects the personal information from someone other than the individual; or the individual may not be aware that the APP entity has collected the personal information, the fact that the entity collects or has collected the information and the circumstances of that collection;
if the collection of the personal information is required or specifically authorised by Australian law or court order, details about that;
the purposes for which the APP entity collects the personal information;
the main consequences (if any) for the individual if all or some of the personal information is not collected by the APP entity;
any other person, or the types of persons, to which the APP entity usually discloses personal information of the kind collected by the entity;
whether the APP entity is likely to disclose the personal information to overseas recipients;
if the APP entity is likely to disclose the personal information to overseas recipients—the countries in which such recipients are likely to be located if it is practicable to specify those countries in the notification or to otherwise make the individual aware of them.
Use or disclosure of personal information for a purpose other than the primary purpose of collection (being a 'secondary purpose') is permitted under specific exceptions where that secondary use or disclosure is:
required or authorised by or under an Australian law or a court order;
necessary to lessen or prevent a serious threat to any individual’s life, health or safety, or to public health or safety, and it is unreasonable or impracticable to obtain the consent of the individual;
necessary in order for an organisation to take appropriate action in relation to a reasonable suspicion of unlawful activity, or misconduct of a serious nature, that relates to the entity’s functions or activities. APP 6.2(e) also permits the use or disclosure of personal information for a secondary purpose to an enforcement body for one or more enforcement related activities;
in the conduct of surveillance activities, intelligence gathering activities or monitoring activities, by a law enforcement agency;
the conduct of protective (for example, in relation to children) or custodial activities;
to assist any APP entity, body or person to locate a person who has been reported as missing (where the entity reasonably believes that this use or disclosure is reasonably necessary, and where that use or disclosure complies with rules made by the Commissioner);
for the establishment, exercise or defence of a legal or equitable claim; and
for the purposes of a confidential alternative dispute resolution process.
Generally notification is required wherever a use or disclosure of personal information is made, unless a specific exception applies.
12 Control of use
There are a number of provisions in the Privacy Act which directly, or indirectly, enable individuals to exercise a degree of choice or control over use of their PI by organisations.
APP 1 (Openness and transparency), which requires organisations to have ongoing practices and policies in place to ensure that they manage personal information in an open and transparent way;
APP 2 (Anonymity and pseudonymity), which requires that an organisation provide individuals with the option of dealing with it using a pseudonym or anonymously. Both requirements are subject to certain limited exceptions, including where it is impracticable for the organisation to deal with an individual who has not identified themselves, or where the law or a court/tribunal order requires or authorises the organisation to deal with individuals who have identified themselves;
APP 3 (Collection of solicited personal information), which clarifies that, unless an exception applies, sensitive information must only be collected with an individual’s consent and if the collection is also reasonably necessary for one or more of the organisation’s functions or activities;
APP 5 (Notification), which requires organisations to notify individuals about the access, correction and complaints processes in their APP privacy policies, and also the location of any likely overseas recipients of individuals’ information;
APP 7 (Direct marketing), which requires the availability of opt-out mechanisms in relation to direct marketing;
APP 12 (Access), which requires an organisation to give an individual access to the personal information that it holds about that individual, unless an exception applies. There is a new express requirement for organisations to respond to requests for access within a reasonable period. In addition, organisations must give access in the manner requested by the individual if it is reasonable to do so. If an organisation decides not to give an individual access, it must generally provide written reasons for the refusal and information about the mechanisms available to complain about the refusal;
APP 13 (Correction), which requires an organisation to take reasonable steps to correct personal information to ensure that, having regard to a purpose for which it is held, it is accurate, up-to-date, complete, relevant and not misleading, if either the organisation is satisfied that it needs to be corrected, or an individual requests that their personal information be corrected. Organisations generally need to notify other APP entities that have been provided with the personal information of any correction, if that notification is requested by the individual.
13 Data accuracy
APP 10 (Integrity) requires an organisation to take reasonable steps to ensure that the personal information that it collects is accurate, up-to-date and complete,
In relation to use and disclosure, the APP 10 requirement is that an organisation will need to take reasonable steps to ensure that the personal information is relevant (in addition to being accurate, up- to-date, and complete), having regard to the purpose of that use or disclosure.
APP 13 (Correction) requires an organisation to take reasonable steps to correct personal information to ensure that, having regard to a purpose for which it is held, it is accurate, up-to-date, complete, relevant and not misleading, if either the organisation is satisfied that it needs to be corrected, or an individual requests that their personal information be corrected. Organisations generally need to notify
other APP entities that have been provided with the personal information of any correction, if that notification is requested by the individual.
14 Amount and duration of data holding
There are no express restrictions as to the quantity of PI an organisation may collect or hold, but organisations are prohibited from collecting and holding PI unless the information is reasonably necessary for one or more of the organisation's functions or activities.
In addition, where the personal information is sensitive information, organisations are prohibited from collecting and holding that sensitive information unless the individual consents and the information is reasonably necessary for one or more of the organisation's functions or activities or if an exception applies.
APP 11.2 requires an APP entity to take reasonable steps to destroy or de-identify personal information if the organisation no longer needs it for any for which it may be used or disclosed in accordance with the APPs. There are two exceptions to this requirement: if the personal information is contained in a Commonwealth record, or if the organisation is required by or under an Australian law or a court order to retain the information.
15 Finality principle
European privacy lawyers sometimes refer to a ‘finality principle’, to the effect that use and disclosure of personal information is limited by the purposes for which it was originally collected (subject to various exceptions). The concept is that organisations cannot change their minds about the uses they (or others) wish to make of personal information, after the event of collection.
The ‘finality principle’ is partially reflected in APP 6 (Use or disclosure). If an APP entity holds personal information about an individual that was collected for a particular purpose (the primary purpose), the entity must not use or disclose the information for another purpose (the secondary purpose) unless the individual has consented to the use or disclosure of the information; or an exception in subclause 6.2 or 6.3 applies.
the individual would reasonably expect the APP entity to use or disclose the information for the secondary purpose and the secondary purpose is, if the information is sensitive information, directly related to the primary purpose; or if the information is not sensitive information, related to the primary purpose;
the use or disclosure of the information is required or authorised by or under an Australian law or a court order;
the use or disclosure of the information is necessary to lessen or prevent a serious threat to any individual’s life, health or safety, or to public health or safety, and it is unreasonable or impracticable to obtain the consent of the individual;
the use or disclosure of the information is necessary in order for an organisation to take appropriate action in relation to a reasonable suspicion of unlawful activity, or misconduct of a serious nature, that relates to the entity’s functions or activities; or
the individual has consented to the use or disclosure.
16 Data security and notification of data breaches
APP 11 (Security) requires organisations to take reasonable steps to protect PI from misuse, interference and loss and unauthorised access, modification or disclosure. When PI is no longer needed for an authorised purpose by an organisation, it must take reasonable steps to destroy or permanently de-identify it.
Reasonable steps in relation to protection of PI will vary with the circumstances. Relevant circumstances include (by way of non-exhaustive examples) how sensitive the PI is, how it is stored
(e.g. paper or electronically), the likely harm to the data subject if a breach occurred and the size of the organisation. Similarly, destruction or de-identification processes will vary. In any event, PI should be destroyed securely and de-identified such that the data subject’s identity is no longer reasonably ascertainable from the PI.
In April 2013, the OAIC published a guide to information security which discusses some of the circumstances that the OAIC takes into account when assessing the reasonableness of the steps taken by entities to ensure information is kept secure. This guide presents a set of non-exhaustive steps and strategies that may be reasonable for an entity to take in order to secure personal information. The OAIC has stated that the Commissioner will refer to this guide when assessing an entity’s compliance with security obligations in the Privacy Act.
The Privacy Act does not presently impose obligations on agencies or organisations to notify either the OAIC, or the individual concerned, of security breaches involving personal information.
However, the OAIC recommends notification in its guidelines on this area ‘Data Breach Notification: A guide to handling personal information security breaches, April 2012’. These guidelines are generally followed by corporations in Australia.
The ALRC recommended the introduction of a mandatory data breach notification scheme in its 2008 report, ‘For Your Information: Australian Privacy Law and Practice’. In 2013, the then federal government introduced the Privacy Amendment (Privacy Alerts) Bill 2013. This Bill had not been passed by both Houses of the Federal Parliament when the Parliament was prorogued and accordingly lapsed. If enacted, this Bill would have built upon the OAIC’s scheme of voluntary notification of serious data breaches by entities, as set out in the OAIC’s guidelines. The Bill proposed a high threshold based on a reasonable belief by the entity concerned that the data breach is sufficiently serious to pose a real risk of serious harm to affected individuals. In the event of such a breach, the provisions of the Bill, if enacted, would have required the entity to notify affected individuals and the Information Commissioner as soon as practicable. The provisions of the Bill would require that the data breach notice include:
the identity and contact details of the entity;
a description of the breach;
the kinds of personal information concerned;
recommendations about the steps that individuals should take in response to the breach; and
any other information specified in any made regulations under the Bill (if enacted).
17 Data protection officer
Australia has no mandatory requirement to appoint a data protection officer.
It is becoming more common for major corporations to appoint a privacy professional, generally working within a legal or regulatory compliance team. However, there is no legal obligation to do so.
18 Record keeping
There is no general requirement as to record keeping. However, the Privacy Act does require an organisation to keep a written note of any use or disclosure of PI where the organisation reasonably believes that the use or disclosure of the information is reasonably necessary for one or more enforcement related activities conducted by, or on behalf of, an enforcement body.
Written notes must also be made in relation to certain uses or disclosures of credit related PI, including the use and disclosure of such information for direct marketing pre-screening assessments.
Further, reasonable steps under APP 11 (Security) may require certain processes to be established, depending on the circumstances.
Some Australian states require owners of health-related PI to keep records of when this type of PI is deleted or disposed of.
If an APP entity holds personal information about an individual, the entity must, on request by the individual, give the individual access to the information (APP 12 (Access)).
Exceptions apply, as outlined below.
An APP entity must respond to a request for access to the personal information if the entity is an agency, within 30 days after the request is made; or if the entity is an organisation, within a reasonable period after the request is made; and give access to the information in the manner requested by the individual, if it is reasonable and practicable to do so.
Exceptions applicable to organisations include where:
the entity reasonably believes that giving access would pose a serious threat to the life, health or safety of any individual, or to public health or public safety;
giving access would have an unreasonable impact on the privacy of other individuals;
the request for access is frivolous or vexatious;
the information relates to existing or anticipated legal proceedings between the entity and the individual, and would not be accessible by the process of discovery in those proceedings;
giving access would reveal the intentions of the entity in relation to negotiations with the individual in such a way as to prejudice those negotiations;
giving access would be unlawful;
denying access is required or authorised by or under an Australian law or a court order;
the entity has reason to suspect unlawful activity, or misconduct of a serious nature, that relates to the entity’s functions or activities and giving access would be likely to prejudice the taking of appropriate action in relation to the matter; and
giving access would be likely to prejudice one or more enforcement related activities conducted by, or on behalf of, an enforcement body; giving access would reveal evaluative information generated within the entity in connection with a commercially sensitive decision-making process.
If the APP entity refuses to give access to the personal information or to give access in the manner requested by the individual, the entity must give the individual a written notice that sets out:
the reasons for the refusal except to the extent that, having regard to the grounds for the refusal, it would be unreasonable to do so; and
the mechanisms available to complain about the refusal; and
any other matter prescribed by regulations made pursuant to the Act.
A sector specific access and correction framework applies in relation to credit related information.
If an APP entity holds personal information about an individual; and either the entity is satisfied that, having regard to a purpose for which the information is held, the information is inaccurate, out of date, incomplete, irrelevant or misleading; or the individual requests the entity to correct the information, the entity must take such steps as are reasonable in the circumstances to correct that information to ensure that, having regard to the purpose for which it is held, the information is accurate, up to date, complete, relevant and not misleading (APP 13.1 (Correction)).
A breach of the APPs generally does not give rise to a cause of action exercisable at the suit of the affected individual. However, in certain circumstances the Commissioner can exercise jurisdiction and seek damages on behalf of an affected individual.
20 Cross-border disclosure and transfer of personal information
Transfer of PI is not regulated as such: the relevant act or practice that is regulated is use or disclosure of PI. Accordingly, it is not relevant whether the custody and control of the PI is transferred to the provider of outsourced processing services: it is sufficient if there is a disclosure, such as through the provider being provided with any form of access to the PI.
The transfer of PI to entities providing outsourced processing services in Australia, therefore, constitutes a disclosure of PI for the purposes of the Privacy Act. The Act makes no distinction between disclosure of PI to outsourced processing services and disclosure of PI to any other third
party. Each disclosure would need to be undertaken subject to the requirements of APP 6 (Use and disclosure).
APP 6 generally prohibits the disclosure of PI by organisations unless the disclosure is consistent with the primary purpose for collection of the information, or a related secondary purpose.
However, there is an exception under the Act in relation to use or disclosures by related bodies corporate: broadly, related bodies corporate are treated as a single entity for the purposes of privacy regulation.
APP 8 also imposes restrictions on the disclosure of personal information to recipients outside Australia: these restrictions apply in addition to the disclosure restrictions under APP 6.
As is the case with disclosures to third parties within Australia, transfer of PI to outside Australia is not regulated as such: for example, in relation to Australian regulated PI an organisation may transfer Australian regulated PI from its branch in Australia to another branch of itself outside Australia, or provide its overseas branch with electronic access to its Australian based database. However, any transfer to, or provision of electronic access (including read-only) to, Australian regulated PI to a third party ‘overseas recipient’, including a related body corporate of the discloser, is a disclosure of that PI. If the third party to whom the PI is disclosed is outside Australia, APP 8 (Cross-border disclosure) will operate.
APP 8 does not specifically address the common scenario of provision of custody and management of encrypted Australian regulated PI to a provider of outsourced hosting services. A sensible view is that unless there is any reasonable possibility that the provider of outsourced hosting services or persons that might reasonably be anticipated to have access to the PI might also have the capability to decrypt and thereby at least view personal information, there is no ‘disclosure’ of that PI to any overseas recipient. On this view, capability needs to be assessed ‘in the round’, having regard to technical capability of the provider of outsourced hosting services or persons that might reasonably be anticipated to have access to the encrypted PI), and operational and contractual safeguards against decryption or other misuse, taken together. OAIC’s APP Guideline on APP 8 (Cross-border disclosure of personal information) at paragraph 8.14 suggests that the OAIC will consider the provision of personal information to cloud service providers located overseas for the limited purpose of storing and ensuring that the Australian regulated entity may access that information a ‘use’ rather than a ‘disclosure’ by the Australian regulated entity if:
the contract with the provider requires the provider to only handle the information for these limited purposes;
the contract with the provider requires that any sub-contractors to the provider must agree to the same obligations; and
the contract gives the Australian entity effective control of how the personal information is handled by the overseas entity. According to the OAIC, contractual indicators that APP entity has retained effective control of the information include whether the entity has retained the right or power to access, change or retrieve the personal information, who else will be able to access the personal information and for what purposes, what types of security measures will be used for the storage and management of the personal information and whether the personal information can be retrieved or permanently deleted by the entity when no longer required at the end of the contract.
In practice, determining whether the provision of information to service providers constitutes a ‘disclosure’ or ‘use’ will likely be a difficult exercise and will ultimately turn on the nature of the services provided and the terms of the services agreement. APP entities are expected to take a cautious
approach to this issue until further clarity around the concept of ‘disclosure’ is provided by the OAIC or the courts.
APP 8 and section 16C of the Act also introduce an accountability approach to cross-border disclosures of personal information.
Before an organisation discloses personal information to an overseas recipient, the organisation must take reasonable steps to ensure that the overseas recipient does not breach the APPs (other than APP 1) in relation to that information. In some circumstances an act done, or a practice engaged in, by the overseas recipient that would breach the APPs, is taken to be a breach of the APPs by the organisation. Generally, this will apply where:
APP 8.1 applies to the disclosure (APP 8.1 applies to all cross-border disclosures of personal information, unless an exception in APP 8.2 applies), and
the overseas recipient is not subject to the APPs, but the act or practice would be a breach of the APPs if they were.
APP 8.2 lists a number of exceptions to APP 8.1. For example, APP 8.1 will not apply where:
the organisation reasonably believes that the recipient is subject to a law or binding scheme that has the effect of protecting the information in a way that is, overall, substantially similar to the APPs; and there are mechanisms available to the individual to enforce that protection of the law or binding scheme (APP 8.2(a));
an individual consents to the cross-border disclosure, after the organisation expressly informs them that APP 8.1 will no longer apply if they give their consent (APP 8.2(b)).
Each of these two exceptions is difficult to interpret and apply. Attempts to invoke the exceptions are likely to be the subject of significant debate and regulatory scrutiny.
As to notice and consent, the form, prominence (conspicuousness) and level of comprehensibility of the ‘express informing’ are likely to be controversial. It is clear that the express notice needs to be sufficiently clear, but to ensure fully informed consent must the notice spell out what the practical effect of APP 8.1 not applying will be? The Commissioner’s Guidelines (at paragraphs 8.28 to 8.30) are not prescriptive as to the form of notice, beyond stating that at the minimum the statement should explain that if the individual consents to the exposure and the overseas recipient handles the personal information in breach of the APPs, the (Australian regulated) entity will not be accountable under the Privacy Act and the individual will not be able to seek redress under the Privacy Act. Many notices as recently revised do not comply with these ‘minimum’ requirements. For example, consider a notice as follows (following a description of permitted purposes): You consent to your personal information being disclosed to a destination outside Australia for these purposes, including but not limited to the United States of America, and you acknowledge and agree that Australian Privacy Principle 8.1 will not apply to such disclosures and
that we will not be required to take such steps as are reasonable in the circumstances to ensure such third parties outside of Australia comply with the Australian Privacy Principles. The notice does not include the second limb required by the Commissioner: it does not state that the individual will not be able to seek redress under the Privacy Act. Other questions remain. How prominent does this notice need to be? If the consent is to have an ongoing operation, does the notice or consent need to be reinforced, or otherwise the subject of reminders, at periodic intervals, and if so, how often? Is the form of consent required for APP 8.2(b) different to the form of consent for other purposes, noting in this regard the unusual juxtaposition in the drafting of APP 8.2(b) of expressly informs and after being so informed, the individual consents?.
APP 8.2 also introduces a number of other circumstances in which APP 8.1 will not apply:
where the cross border disclosure is required or authorised by or under an Australian law, or a court/tribunal order (APP 8.2(c));
where an organisation reasonably believes that the disclosure is necessary to lessen or prevent a serious threat to the life, health or safety of any individual, or to public health or safety (APP 8.2(d), s16A item 1);
where an organisation reasonably believes that the disclosure is necessary to take action in relation to the suspicion of unlawful activity or misconduct of a serious nature that relates to the organisation’s functions or activities (APP 8.2(d), s 16A item 2);
where an organisation reasonably believes that the disclosure is necessary to assist any APP entity, body or person to locate a person who has been reported as missing (APP 8.2(d), s 16A item 3).
The transfer of PI outside Australia does not require the transferor to notify, or seek the authorisation of, a supervisory authority.
The restrictions of APP 8 apply equally to overseas transfers to service providers as to other overseas recipients. The accountability requirements of APP 8 and section 16C of the Act apply in respect of the first recipient and any subsequent recipient.
However, an act or practice engaged in outside Australia does not breach the APPs if that act or practice is required by an applicable law of a foreign country.
21 Credit related provisions
Probably the most complex changes to the Privacy Act are the credit related provisions now completely redrafted in Part IIIA of the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) (Privacy Act) (the CR Scheme).
The CR Scheme applies exclusively to the collection, use and disclosure of personal credit-related information about individuals and regulates the handling of a particular type of personal credit-related information, namely credit information. Credit information comprises, on the whole, information about an individual’s consumer credit history. However, credit information may also include some information about an individual’s commercial credit history. One example is court proceedings information about an individual, which may relates to both commercial and consumer credit history.
The CR Scheme sets out the limited purposes for which a credit provider may use an individual’s credit information. These permitted purposes include the assessment of an application for consumer credit or commercial credit (the latter only with the individual’s express consent). As such, the application of the CR Scheme is not necessarily dependant on whether an individual is applying for
consumer or commercial credit. Rather, the determining factor as to the Scheme’s application is whether a credit provider is proposing to collect, use or disclose credit information about an individual.
The majority of the restrictions in the CR Scheme address collection, use and disclosure of credit information in the course of a credit provider’s engagement with a credit reporting bureau, such as Veda Advantage or Experian. (There are also other provisions that deal specifically with a credit provider’s disclosure of information to other entities, such as debt collectors). Accordingly, if a credit provider does not collect from a CRB, or disclose to a CRB, credit information about individuals, many of the key provisions in the CR Scheme are not applicable.
The following categories of credit information are regulated under the Scheme.
As noted above, the first and foundational category of information regulated by the CR Scheme is called credit information. In basic terms, credit information is essentially the personal credit- related information a credit provider collects from its dealings with an individual and discloses to a CRB. Credit information is defined exhaustively in the CR Scheme to include limited kinds of personal credit-related information, such as identification information, default information and repayment history information.
Credit information is repackaged and consolidated with other information held by a CRB to form credit reporting information. Credit reporting information includes credit information and any information derived by CRB from the credit information. CRBs disclose credit reporting information about individuals to credit providers that request the information.
In the hands of a credit provider, credit reporting information becomes credit eligibility information, which comprises the credit reporting information that is obtained from a CRB and any other information a credit provider derives from that information. The restrictions in the CR Scheme that govern use and disclosure of credit eligibility information by a credit provider apply only to information obtained from a CRB (and information derived therefrom) and not any other information a credit provider may have collected directly from the individual.
The CR Scheme must be read in conjunction with the terms of the Credit Reporting Privacy Code (CR Code). The CR Code is legally binding on credit providers and sets out further and more detailed restrictions and obligations relating to (among other things) the collection, use and disclosure of personal credit-related information.
For the purpose of determining whether an organisation is a credit provider under the CR Scheme in relation to a particular transaction, it is irrelevant whether Bauer provides a customer with consumer credit or commercial credit. This distinction only becomes relevant in relation to the purposes for which the entity may use and disclose credit information. Section 6G of the Privacy Act describes a number of scenarios in which an entity is deemed to be a credit provider. Of most general relevance, an organisation is a credit provider if it carries on a business in the course of which it provides credit in connection with the sale of goods, or the supply of services, by the supplier; and the credit is available for at least 7 days.
22 Emerging trends and issues
Emerging trends in Australian privacy law will reflect global trends, concerns and issues as they arise. Australia tends to closely follow major global trends, paying particular attention to regulatory developments in the U.S.A., European Union and ASEAN region.
Current trends include:
Applications for registration and registrations of APP codes. The amendments to the Act effective from March 2014 give a prominent role to enforceable industry Codes. It is expected that there will be significant industry sector activity in development of Codes.
Possible introduction of mandatory data breach notification requirements.
Increased focus upon privacy by design and information security by design principles and practical implementation of privacy protective processes and systems by corporations.
Review of published privacy policies for 'transparency': prominence, readability and structuring appropriate to the likely readers and as to the description of primary and secondary purposes of personal information.
Pressure for expansion of privacy protection in relation to surveillance and geo-tracking devices and extension of the definition of personal information, or introduction of new restrictions as to ‘profiling’, to address concerns as to particular, perceived socially detrimental uses of big data analytics.
Changes to privacy regulation of news gathering and news reporting by the print and electronic media. It is likely that media Codes or other media regulation affecting privacy will change in the foreseeable future.
The ALRC’s consultation and report (due June 2014) as to introduction of a statutory cause of action for serious invasion of privacy.
Continuing pressure for more extensive regulation of third party online behavioural advertising.
As at January 2014 there had not been an active ‘do not track’ debate in Australia.
More active cross-border coordination and joint enforcement activity by the OAIC and comparable regulators in other jurisdictions.
Continuing consultation as to alignment of privacy regulation in the Asia Pacific region.
Focus upon law enforcement exceptions to privacy laws following the Edward Snowden revelations as to activities of the U.S. National Security Agency and national security collaboration between the ‘Five Eyes’ countries, including Australia.
Given the volatility and unpredictability of emergence of issues in privacy regulation, it is likely that the above list will change by addition of further issues.