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Privacy and freedom of information

 

I have a complaint that my personal information has not been handled properly by a government department or agency. What can I do?

The Privacy Commissioner within the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) can help with complaints about the handling of your personal information by Commonwealth, ACT and Norfolk Island government agencies, and private sector organisations covered by the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth). There is a Complaint Checker which can be accessed on the OAIC website to use to see if the OAIC can investigate your complaint.

The Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) regulates how your personal information is handled, including how it is collected, used, stored and disclosed. It also covers the use of your tax file number and how credit worthiness information about you is handled.  For more information on what personal information is covered and what the Act covers visit the OAIC website.

The State public sector in Western Australia is not covered by a legislative privacy regime. Various confidentiality provisions cover government agencies.  

How can I make a complaint under the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth)?

You can make a privacy complaint online or by writing to the OAIC. Details of how to do this are on the OAIC website.

I want to get information about me from a federal or state or local government agency file or have a record changed because it is inaccurate. What do I do?

Under the Freedom of Information Act 1992 (WA) and the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth) you have rights to look at files from government departments or agencies, eg statutory authorities, if you are interested or want to check that the records about you are accurate, or you are in dispute with a department or agency.

The Acts identify certain types of documents which you may not be able to see (called exempt documents). There are also other reasons why you may not be given access.

If you want access to documents, or to change documents about you, identify which documents you want and give as much information as possible as you can about the documents you want or want to change. Contact the department or agency's FOI officer directly if they have one. Some will have their own freedom of information (FOI) application forms, with others a letter will do.   

At a state and national level there is no application fee where you request access to your personal information. You may have to pay other charges, eg for photocopying, supervision when viewing documents; transcribing documents, etc. A reduction or waiver of charges is possible in some cases. You will have to pay an application fee at a state level if the documents contain non-personal information.  

For more information on charges and exemptions under federal law see the OAIC guide to the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth).

What if I want to make a complaint or am not happy about a freedom of information response?

State

At a state level if you are not happy with the agency's decision you have 30 days to make an application for internal review. The agency then has 15 days to conduct a review.

If you are not happy with the decision at internal review you can lodge a complaint with the WA Information Commissioner. The WA Information Commissioner's main function is to deal with complaints about decisions made by agencies about access to documents applications and requests to amend personal information.

You must do this within 60 days of receiving the agency's notice of decision. If you are a third party affected by the decision you have 30 days to lodge a complaint.

 

Federal 

At a federal level if you are not happy with an FOI access decision eg, you were not given full access to documents you requested, you can seek internal review by the agency or go directly to the Information Commissioner (Cth). For internal review you must apply within 30 days of being notified of the decision, unless the agency extended the application time. The agency must make a decision within 30 days. You can't seek internal review if a minister or the chief officer of the agency made the decision.

 

If you do not agree with the Information Commissioner's decision you can apply for a review to the Australian Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). A fee applies to lodge your application but exemptions for health care and pension concession card holders and the AAT can waive the fee on financial hardship grounds.

What if I have a problem with how my privacy has been handled by my employer, my private school or a private company?

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) website has information on a range of topics including: health, credit and finance, internet and other communication technologies, direct marketing, tenancy and real estate, education and child care, workplace, photos and surveillance, and specific issues for young people. In some situations the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) or State laws may offer protection of your rights.

Are there rules about recording or monitoring my telephone conversations?

Yes. For more information go to the Office of the Information Commissioner website.

How can I protect my privacy?

The OAIC has produced a guide: 10 Steps to Protecting Your Personal Information which you may find a useful starting point. It can be viewed on or downloaded from the OAIC website.

What if I have a complaint about personal information that has been posted online on social media?

See Social media - be careful what you say or send.

Where can I get more information?

Last reviewed: 07/03/2014

Last Modified: 21/03/2014

Disclaimer

The material displayed on this page is intended for information only. If you have a legal problem, you should see a lawyer. Legal Aid Western Australia believes that the information provided is accurate, however does not accept responsibility for any errors or omissions.