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Annual Report 2012–13: FOI complaints up 17%, privacy complaints up 10%

In 2012–13, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) received an increased number of privacy and freedom of information (FOI) enquiries, complaints and review applications.

‘While the increased caseload created workload challenges, it is a pleasing confirmation of the assistance the OAIC is able to provide to the public, government agencies, and private sector organisations,’ said Australian Information Commissioner Prof. John McMillan.

The OAIC’s Annual Report records that in 2012–13 the office received 1496 privacy complaints, 148 freedom of information (FOI) complaints, and handled 18,205 phone enquiries and 3142 written enquiries (an 11.3% increase on the previous year). The OAIC also received 507 applications for Information Commissioner review (a 11.2% increase on the previous year) and 61 data breach notifications (a 33% increase on the previous year).

The OAIC also reports high levels of activity across the FOI system. Agencies and ministers covered by the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act) received 24,944 FOI requests in 2012–13, an increase of 0.7% on the previous year. The number of non-personal information requests continued to grow – by 7.1% this year, and by 85.1% since the 2010 FOI reforms. Agencies and ministers decided 21,764 requests (down 2.2%) and access to documents was granted, in full or in part, in 89.4% of all requests determined (up 1.0%).

‘The 2010 FOI Act reforms have markedly changed how government agencies handle information access requests,’ said Professor McMillan. ‘Embedding a pro-disclosure culture in government will continue to throw up new challenges, particularly at a time of decreasing resources for government agencies and new priorities to handle.’

A central theme in OAIC work this year was the importance of taking an integrated approach to information privacy, open government and public sector information management.

‘For example, in 2012–13 the OAIC was consulted by agencies that were keen to share public sector information with other agencies and the community while ensuring privacy was not jeopardised. In response, the OAIC issued draft guidance on the de-identification of data that emphasised the need to take a balanced approach to sharing data while safeguarding privacy’, Professor McMillan said.

The OAIC delivered a number of other major projects throughout the year, including a report on how government agencies manage public sector information, contribution to a major independent review of the FOI Act and the Australian Information Commissioner Act 2010, and a suite of publications about the reforms to the Privacy Act 1988 that commence in March 2014.

Looking forward, Professor McMillan expects that effective information management will continue to be a lively challenge across government and the private sector in 2013–14.

‘Significant reforms to the Privacy Act 1988 that commence in March 2014 will require government and business to alter how personal information is managed. The OAIC will continue to advocate that Australia join the international Open Government Partnership and develop a national action plan for information transparency and management. Bringing the various information strands together is essential to realise the stated object of the FOI Act, to ensure that government information is managed for public purposes as a national resource’.

The following Commissioners are available for interview:

  • Professor John McMillan (Australian Information Commissioner)
  • Timothy Pilgrim (Privacy Commissioner)
  • Dr James Popple (Freedom of Information Commissioner)

The OAIC annual report can be accessed in the Annual Reports section of this website.

Media contact: Ms Leila Daniels     0407 663 968