What is privacy?

Last updated: 29 July 2019

Privacy is a fundamental human right that underpins freedom of association, thought and expression, as well as freedom from discrimination. But it’s hard to define. Different countries offer different views, as do individuals.

Generally speaking, privacy includes the right:

  • to be free from interference and intrusion
  • to associate freely with whom you want
  • to be able to control who can see or use information about you

And there are different ways to look at privacy, such as:

  • physical privacy (for instance, being frisked at airport security or giving a bodily sample for medical reasons)
  • surveillance (where your identity can’t be proved or information isn’t recorded)
  • information privacy (how your personal information is handled)

Information privacy is about promoting the protection of information that says who we are, what we do and what we believe.

We regulate the Privacy Act 1988 (Privacy Act) which covers how your personal information is handled by Australian Government agencies and any organisation with an annual turnover of more than $3 million, and some other organisations. The Privacy Act doesn’t specifically cover surveillance but there are situations where it may apply. 

Your right to privacy isn’t absolute. Sometimes other concerns are given priority, such as the safety of you or others, or the interests of justice. But it’s important. That’s why strict rules apply in these situations.

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