Privacy and Freedom of Information

Your personal information is important. There are many ways your privacy can be invaded. In some situations, there are laws to protect your privacy.

Legal Aid WA may be able to help you if you have problems with the collection, disclosure or protection of personal information or data breaches. Call our Infoline to find out what help we can give in your situation. If we can’t help, we may be able to refer you to someone else who can.

Find out: 

  • how to complain if your personal information hasn’t been handled properly by a government agency or department
  • how to access or change information held by a government agency
  • what you can do if you are not happy with the response to a Freedom of Information request.

What can I do if my personal information has not been handled properly by a government department or agency?

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (the OAIC) can help with complaints about privacy and the way your personal information is handled. It only deals with personal information held by:

  • Commonwealth, ACT and Norfolk Island government agencies, and 
  • private sector organisations covered by the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth). 

The OIAC has a Privacy Complaint Checker to help you work out if it can investigate your complaint.

The state public sector in Western Australia does not have legislation about privacy. However, there are confidentiality provisions that cover state government agencies. 

How do I access information held by a government agency?

Under the Freedom of Information Act 1992 (WA) and the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth), you can look at files from government departments or agencies, if you:

  • are interested 
  • want to check that the records about you are accurate, or 
  • are in dispute with a department or agency.

There are some types of documents which you may not be able to see. These are called 'exempt documents'. There are also other reasons why you may not be given access to documents under an FOI request.

To make an FOI request, you need to:

  • identify which documents you want, giving as much information as you can to identify what you are asking for,
  • contact the department's or agency's Freedom of Information officer directly (if they have one), and
  • pay the relevant application fee (there is no charge if you are only asking for your personal information).

Some agencies will have their own FOI application forms. 

How can I get incorrect personal information changed?

If you are concerned that an agency holds information about you that is inaccurate, incomplete, out of date or misleading, you should first contact the agency to discuss whether it will correct that information without the need for you to make a formal FOI application.

If you need to make a formal request to the agency, it will need to:

  • be in writing
  • give enough details to identify the relevant document
  • point to what information you believe is inaccurate, incomplete, out of date or misleading, and explain why, and
  • say how you want the information changed (either by altering, striking out or deleting the information, or inserting a note in relation to information).

Your application should be supported by information or evidence to show why the personal information needs to be amended.

There are no fees or charges for applying to change personal information under FOI legislation.

What if I want to make a complaint or I am not happy about an FOI response?

Your options for reviewing agency FOI decisions are different between state and national agencies.

Western Australian state agencies

If you are not happy with a WA state government agency's decision about providing or changing information, 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 agency’s internal review, you can lodge a complaint with the WA Information Commissioner. The WA Information Commissioner's deals with complaints about decisions made by agencies about access to documents, FOI applications, and requests to amend personal information.  You must do this within 60 days of receiving the agency’s decision. 

National agencies

At a national level, if you are not happy with a Freedom of Information access decision, you can:

  • seek internal review by the agency, or 
  • go directly to the Australian Information Commissioner

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 are unhappy with the internal review, you can also then apply for review by the Australian Information Commissioner.

If you do not agree with the Australian Information Commissioner's decision, you can apply for a review to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

 

More information

 

Reviewed: 28 June 2018

Disclaimer

The information displayed on this page is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have a legal problem, you should see a lawyer. Legal Aid Western Australia aims to provide information that is accurate, however does not accept responsibility for any errors or omissions in the information provided on this page or incorporated into it by reference.