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Australian Government - Office of the Australian Information Commissioner - Home

Question 2

Is your personal information recorded in a document, case file, photograph, database, mailing list, book, medical record, magazine, website, blog post, email etc?

Examples of records containing personal information include:

  • an email containing telephone billing information, including the account holder's name and telephone number
  • a recording of a telephone conversation, where the parties to the conversation are able to be identified
  • minutes of a meeting referring to individuals who are reasonably identifiable
  • customer contact information entered into a database
  • a photograph in a newsletter where the person is reasonably identifiable
  • a published report that includes the details of identifiable individuals
  • a file note of a conversation between or about any identifiable individual
  • photocopies or scans of identity credentials, such as a drivers licence or student identification card.

Examples of where personal information is not contained in record include:

  • a biometric scan of an individual is made, but not retained
  • a private conversation is overheard by a third party, but no record is made of the conversation
  • an identity credential, such as a drivers licence or student card, is checked, but no information from the credential is retained.


Sorry, it is unlikely that the Commissioner can investigate your complaint. Your complaint must involve personal information that is recorded. Further information

Further information

The Privacy Act only protects personal information that was collected for inclusion in a generally available publication or in a record. This means for example, that unrecorded gossip about you is not likely to be protected under the Privacy Act.

generally available publication is "a magazine, book, article, newspaper or other publication that is, or will be, generally available to members of the public

  1. whether or not it is published in print, electronically or in any other form; and
  2. whether or not it is available on the payment of a fee."

(Section of the Privacy Act to read: 6) .

record includes:

  1. a document; or
  2. an electronic or other device.

(Section of the Privacy Act to read for complete definition: 6)

A 'document' means any record of information. A document can include:

  1. anything on which there is writing; and
  2. anything on which there are marks, figures, symbols or perforations having a meaning for persons qualified to interpret them; and
  3. anything from which sounds, images or writings can be reproduced with or without the aid of anything else; and
  4. a map, plan, drawing or photograph.

This definition is from section 2B of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901 (Cth)

Some things are not considered to be records under the Privacy Act. This includes:

  • material kept in a library, art gallery or museum for the purposes of reference, study or exhibition
  • letters or other articles in the process of being sent by post.

Key points

  • Your complaint must be about your personal information collected for inclusion in a generally available publication or a record.
  • If you are unsure about whether your personal information is contained in a record, please contact our Enquiries line.