Why is Privacy important?
Because everyone values their privacy, it is important that community service organisations respect the privacy of the individuals they provide services to. Privacy laws at both State and Federal level regulate how organisations collect, store, use and disclose personal information.
What information is covered by privacy law?
Privacy laws apply to ‘personal information’ – which is any information about an identifiable individual. Personal information includes obviously identifying information such as their name, address and contact information such as phone numbers and email addresses. Personal information can also include ‘sensitive information’ such as racial and ethnic origins and, importantly for community services organisations, health information.
Not all the information that community service organisations will deal with will constitute ‘personal information’. Only natural living persons have ‘personal information’ and so privacy law would not apply to purely ‘business information’ such as a business name, address and ABN.
Also, privacy law will not generally cover personal information that is in the public domain. For example – if an individual’s residential landline number is listed in the White Pages, they will not have privacy protection over that piece of information.
How does privacy law apply to community service organisations?
Privacy law is primarily set up to prevent misuse or abuse of an individual’s personal information. Privacy laws do not operate to prevent the legitimate flow of personal information in or out of a community service organisation. More usually, privacy operates to enhance communication between the individual and the community services organisation about how that organisation will deal with the individual’s personal information.
For example – when a community service organisation collects personal information from an individual for its work purposes, it should take reasonable steps to inform the individual why it collects this information and who it may be given to outside of the organisation.
While privacy law is protective of an individual’s personal information, there is a great deal of flexibility built into the law. This flexibility can allow for example, the secondary use of an individual’s personal information, disclosure of that information to third parties, and even marketing activities under certain conditions.
How do I find out more?
Community service organisations may have specific Policies and Procedures setting out how personal information will be managed within the organisation. Employees should seek information on these privacy resources from their supervisors if they need further information.
If you want to know more about the privacy law that governs community service organisations, you can visit www.oaic.gov.au