Promoting privacy and information access rights through the pandemic

21 October 2021

The work of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) to uphold privacy and information access rights and strengthen online privacy protections is highlighted in its 2020–21 annual report published today.

Australian Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk said that in a year dominated by the pandemic, the OAIC’s regulatory approach focused on meeting community expectations for proactive release of government-held information and strong privacy protections in areas of higher risk.

“The ongoing pandemic underscores the importance of privacy and the proactive release of information to building community trust and confidence in new initiatives and government agencies and organisations,” Commissioner Falk said.

“We have advised on a range of areas that are critical to the pandemic response and recovery, from privacy protections in relation to vaccinations to how agencies can meet their freedom of information obligations in a timely manner.

“In addressing COVID-19 and other significant and emerging privacy issues, we have also worked closely with our domestic and international counterparts to maintain a clear and consistent approach.”

Alongside its efforts to assist the Australian community through the pandemic, the OAIC has worked to implement the Consumer Data Right and encourage proactive publication of information across government.

Commissioner Falk said the OAIC continued to hold organisations and government agencies to account in 2020–21 through its compliance and enforcement activities.

“The OAIC made 17 privacy complaint determinations and issued 54 Information Commissioner review decisions that set precedents and provide guidance to other regulated entities,” she said.

“We finalised a number of Commissioner-initiated investigations into significant privacy matters and worked with the UK Information Commissioner on our joint investigation into Clearview AI Inc.’s facial recognition app.

“Our investigation into the Department of Home Affairs’ compliance with statutory timeframes for processing freedom of information requests for non-personal information also resulted in Home Affairs agreeing to implement all our recommendations.”

Commissioner Falk said the OAIC continues to influence policy and reform through its advisory functions.

“Our work shapes the privacy and information access landscape through detailed submissions and regulatory policy advice to the Australian Government and others,” she said.

“In the last year we made 21 submissions and 50 bill scrutiny comments, including a substantial submission to the landmark review of the Privacy Act.

“We have engaged closely with the Attorney-General’s Department as part of its ongoing review to ensure that Australia’s privacy framework is fit for the digital age.

“We will continue to employ our regulatory tools and capabilities in the year ahead to build public trust and confidence in access to government-held information and the protection of personal information, and to support a thriving digital economy.”

Download the OAIC’s Annual Report 2020–21 from its website or read the report on the Transparency Portal.

Key 2020–21 statistics

  • Received 1,224 applications for Information Commissioner (IC) review of FOI decisions (up 15% compared to 2019–20) and finalised 1,018 IC reviews (up 23%) in an average time of 8.3 months (2019–20: 8.1 months)
  • Received 151 FOI complaints (up 39%) and finalised 174 FOI complaints (up 145%) in an average time of 6.8 months (2019–20: 11.6 months)
  • Received 2,474 privacy complaints (down 7%) and finalised 2,151 privacy complaints (down 36%*) in an average time of 4.4 months (2019–20: 4.7 months)
  • Received 975 notifications under the Notifiable Data Breaches (NDB) scheme (down 7%) and finalised 80% of NDBs within 60 days against a target of 80% (up 18%)
  • Handled 11,647 privacy enquiries (down 22%) and 1,824 FOI enquiries (down 21%).

Note to editors

* In the previous reporting period, the OAIC completed a backlog project that increased the finalisation figure for 2019–20, so this is not a like-for-like comparison.

Media contact:                Andrew Stokes         0407 663 968