Privacy principles and research

Ethics committees consider whether the collection, and/or use and/or storage and/or disclosure of personal information in a research project is lawful under federal and state legislation relating to privacy. When necessary, they also consider whether an exemption to the privacy principles is possible under the research exemption.

Personal information covers information that can make an individual identifiable whether on its own or in combination with other information or circumstances. Personal information can be in any format e.g. a photograph is personal information.

In NSW, information about a person who has been dead for more than 30 years is no longer personal information; also if the information is already in a publicly available publication it is not personal information. Information that has been de-identified to a point where it cannot be re-identified is no longer personal information.

Personal information is divided into:

  • Non-health information
  • Health information
  • Sensitive information

Personal information which is also sensitive or health information has additional management requirements.

For more information on sensitive information, see Australian Privacy Principles (opens in a new window) (Office of the Australian Information Commissioner). 

There are different legal privacy principles for different jurisdictions – State, Territory and Federal – although they are similar. Under the legislation universities are considered 'State Government'.

There are two key privacy laws in NSW:

In most cases the privacy principles can be complied with as long as the research participant gives consent for the use of their information and/or the information is de-identified to the point of not being able to be re-identified. When these criteria won't be met researchers need to investigate the legislation and the exemption requirements and make arguments in the ethics application as to why the research should be exempt.

Accessing personal information held by Western Sydney University

The University is bound by privacy laws in relation to its own collection, use and dissemination of personal information, including that relating to staff and students. For more information on recruiting staff and students see Recruitment Considerations (opens in a new window)