Minister's disclosure of personal information : media release
28 July 2009
In response to a number of media enquiries and calls to our free phone line, Privacy Commissioner, Marie Shroff, has made the following comments about the recent release of personal information about two beneficiaries.
"Ministers of the Crown, like other individuals, businesses, and organisations, are covered by the Privacy Act, and should take account of the privacy principles before they release personal details in a public forum," said Ms Shroff.
"Similarly, government departments are bound by the Privacy Act and must look to the exceptions contained in the privacy principles before releasing client information to a third party, including the Minister.
"When an issue is raised publicly, it will often require the Minister to make a careful judgment about how far he or she can go in response. The Privacy Act allows for a balance between freedom of speech and right of reply on the one hand and, on the other, protecting personal details of the individual concerned.
"People may complain to this Office if they feel their privacy has been breached, and we would look into it. If we received a complaint, we would examine the facts of the case and other factors, in detail."
"There are a number of guiding factors I may consider," said Ms Shroff, including:
Whether the person involved has authorised a Minister to talk about their case publicly, or whether their authorisation can be inferred from their statements in going public with their case;
Whether the person concerned has authorised the government agency to make their personal details available;
Whether there are public health or safety concerns that make it necessary to disclose personal details;
Whether disclosing the information is directly related to the purposes for which the information was obtained.