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Can an Australian Government agency use a client’s personal information to contact them to conduct surveys?

Generally, yes, it is possible under the Australian Privacy Principles (APPs) to use personal information to contact clients to conduct surveys, as long as certain requirements are met.

Australian Government agencies must comply with the APPs in the Privacy Act 1988 when using personal information. A key principle is that an agency must only use or disclose personal information for the purpose it was collected (the primary purpose), unless an exception applies. Client surveys often constitute a ‘secondary purpose’. For example, an agency collects personal information to deliver a service (primary purpose) and then wishes to use the information to contact the individual to test their satisfaction with the service (secondary purpose).

Under APP 6.2(a), an agency may use or disclose personal information for a secondary purpose if the use or disclosure is related (or in the case of sensitive information directly related) to the primary purpose of collection and the use or disclosure would be within the individual’s reasonable expectations.

An example of where a use for a secondary purpose might relate to the primary purpose of collection is where an agency:

  • collects personal information for the primary purpose of operating a program and uses that information for the secondary purpose of monitoring, evaluating or managing that program, or
  • collects personal information for the primary purpose of investigating a complaint and uses that information for the secondary purpose of conducting follow-up surveys and reporting to Parliamentary Committees.

For the exception in APP 6.2(a) to apply to these examples, the individual would also need to reasonably expect the information to be used for that secondary purpose. The ‘reasonably expects’ test is an objective one that has regard to what a reasonable person, who is properly informed, would expect in the circumstances. Generally the use of personal information to conduct a follow-up survey would be within an individual’s reasonable expectations, however an agency should assess this on a case by case basis.

Other examples of where an individual may reasonably expect their personal information to be used for a secondary purpose include where the entity has notified the individual of the particular secondary purpose under APP 5.1 and where the secondary purpose is a normal internal business practice, such as as auditing, business planning, billing or de-identifying the personal information.

For more information about APP 6 and the exception in APP 6.2(a), see the full text of the APPs and Chapter 6 of the APP guidelines.