Federal Privacy Act 1988

Information of a personal nature can in some instances allow identification of an individual. It includes information such as a person's name, address, financial information, marital status or billing details(1) . Some personal information is sensitive such as:

  • health information about an individual
  • racial or ethnic origin
  • political opinions
  • membership of a political association
  • religious beliefs or affiliations
  • philosophical beliefs
  • membership of a professional or trade association
  • membership of a trade union
  • sexual preferences or practices
  • criminal record

As this information is highly sensitive, the Federal Privacy Act provides higher protections in the private sector under the National Privacy Principles.

The Federal privacy Act 1988 is Australia's national law for the protection of personal information when handled by Federal and ACT Government Agencies and many private sector organisations. (Not all small businesses have to comply with the Act. Refer to information below), including providing rights for individuals to access and correct personal information about themselves.

The Privacy Commissioner can, and has, issued guidelines under the Privacy Act, and that the Privacy Commissioner administers the Act. The guidelines have been issued in relation to:

  • the handling of personal information that is handled by Federal and ACT government agencies
  • the collection, storage, use and security of personal tax file numbers used by individuals and organisations
  • the handling of information about individuals credit details
  • the handling of personal health information by health service providers in the private sector
  • the handling of personal information held by some private sector organisations.

The Office of the Federal Privacy Commissioner is responsible for administering the Privacy Act 1988. The office provides information and advice, including matters of policy and complaints handling in relation to organisations and agencies that have obligations to protect privacy under the Privacy Act.

Those covered by the Privacy Act include:

  • federal and ACT government departments and Ministers;
  • credit providers and credit reporting agencies;
  • any organisation or individual handling personal tax file numbers;
  • any organisation or individual handling old minor criminal conviction information; and
  • many private sector organisations.(2)

Generally, the Information Privacy Principles give people the right to:

  • know why your personal information is being collected, any law authorising the collection and who it will be given to
  • have access to your records
  • have inaccurate information about you amended
  • be sure that otherwise, information about you can only be used for particular reasons, such as threats to life or health
  • be sure that otherwise, information about you can only be disclosed for particular reasons, such as threats to life or health.

The Privacy Act 1988 provides protection of personal information such as information about a person's disability. Privacy principles set the basic rules for handling peoples information, but their intent is also, and importantly, to encourage agencies and organisations to be open with people about how they handle their information and to develop trust relationships with them about this.

National Disability Coordination Officer Program Logo