On 12 March 2014, the federal Privacy Act 1988 (Privacy Act) changed. This law regulates how your personal information is handled by Australian Government agencies (not state and territory government agencies) and the private sector, including large businesses, credit bodies (like banks), not-for-profits and private health service providers.
Personal information is information or an opinion that identifies you or could identify you. Some examples are your name, address, telephone number, date of birth, medical records, bank account details and opinions about you.
There are a lot of changes to how agencies and businesses are allowed to collect, use, disclose and store your information, how you can access or correct your information, and when your personal information is allowed to be used for direct marketing or sent overseas.
But privacy isn’t just about the law. It’s about you and the choices that you make every day. How often do you think about your privacy when doing any of the following everyday things?
You probably don’t realise just how many decisions you make about your privacy every day. These decisions are your choices — you can make choices about privacy in a way that works for you.
The new Privacy Act includes changes in three main areas.
Enhanced powers for the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC).
The OAIC now has greater powers to resolve investigations and promote privacy compliance.
You can’t exercise or enforce your rights if you don’t know what they are — visit the OAIC website to find out about changes to the law.
Privacy policies can be long and complex, and most of us don’t read them, but a good policy will tell you what you need to know before you provide your personal information.
Australian Government agencies and private sector organisations are only allowed to use your personal information for direct marketing in certain circumstances.
If they do, they have to give you a simple way to opt-out, and they have to action your opt-out request within a reasonable period of time. They also have to tell you where they got your information if you ask.
Many of the services we use on a daily basis have overseas components to their business.
If your personal information is held by an business or agency that is covered by the Privacy Act, and they disclose it to an overseas organisation or agency they need to make sure that it will be handled in accordance with Australian privacy law.
If your personal information is mishandled by the overseas recipient, the business or agency that disclosed your information may be legally responsible for this.
These obligations don’t apply in some circumstances, such as where you specifically agree to your information being disclosed to an overseas organisation or agency. So get informed, and make sure you know what you are agreeing to!
You now have greater rights to access your personal information, and to correct it if it’s wrong. Government agencies and organisations must respond to a request for access or correction within a reasonable period of time (this is 30 days for agencies, and the OAIC considers that 30 days is reasonable for businesses too), and they have to give you reasons in writing if they refuse to give you access.
Social networking sites are one of the key places for sharing personal information. There’s no problem with staying in touch with friends on social media but you need to be aware of the risks and protect yourself and your friends.
The 2013 OAIC Community attitudes to privacy survey shows that 60% of young people think that online services, including social media, are the greatest risk to privacy right now. And 33% of young people have posted something on social media that they later regretted.
Social media sites have privacy policies — so make sure you read the terms and conditions, and adjust your privacy settings, so that you are only sharing with friends and people you trust.
Think about the consequences of your actions — your digital identity is real, and once something is out there it’s almost impossible to take it back.
It’s also important to respect your friends and the people around you — think before you post, tag or share photos or information about other people.
ID theft and fraud are on the rise in Australia, and the availability of personal information in the online environment makes it more important than ever to protect your identity.
If an organisation or person wants to collect personal information from you, ask why the information is required, what they will do with it and who will it be disclosed to:
These days, everyone uses credit on a daily basis — credit and store cards, Paypal, even utility bills are a credit line.
The ability to get credit is something we take for granted, but if something goes wrong it’s usually at the worst possible time — just as you’re about to commit to a large purchase, or even a house.
The 12 March 2014 changes to the Privacy Act included some big changes to the way that the credit system works in Australia. Some aspects remain the same, and some are different, but the key things to remember are: