Explainer - The Right to Privacy in Australia and your chance to have a say about privacy online

Do you worry about what information governments or corporations collect about you or how the images, information or details you share are used by others? Do your clients or members feel anxious about details of their personal life or past experiences being used or shared? Or are you ok with sharing lots about yourself as part of our modern, online lifestyle? Whatever your views, its important to be part of a national conversation on privacy to make sure that any laws made reflect your perspectives and protect your rights.


The basic human right to privacy is premised on the autonomy and dignity of the individual and protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This right protects against arbitrary interference with a person's private life or family, but it is not absolute. It will often clash with a range of other individual rights and collective interests, such as freedom of expression and national security, and can be subject to justifiable limitations, if needed to protect or advance other rights.


Although Australia has signed up to this international treaty, no stand along right to privacy exists under Australian law. Instead, there are a serious of federal and state laws that set out limits when it comes to the collection, use and sharing of personal information and standards for governments and businesses to adhere to. Many of these limits are set out in the Privacy Act 1988 (the Privacy Act). 


The Privacy Act)contains 13 Australian Privacy Principles which regulate the way we collect, store, provide access to, use and disclose personal information. The Privacy Act provides you with rights, including:

  • being told generally what kind of information we are collecting and how we collect it

  • being told generally why your personal information is being collected

  • your personal information can only be collected for a lawful purpose

  • finding out what information we hold about you and have it corrected if it is incorrect, out of date or incomplete, the Freedom of Information Act 1982 also supports this

  • advising that your personal information must be stored securely and protected from interference or misuse.

The question is, are these principles and standards enough to guard against unjustified interference with the right to privacy, particularly by governmental departments, businesses or individuals operating in online environments? Now's your chance to have your say.


The Morrison Government has today released the terms of reference and issues paper for a wide-ranging review of the Privacy Act. Here's a summary of the key points from a media statement from the Attorney General Christian Porter.


The Government committed to a review following the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Digital Platforms Inquiry in 2019. Several recommendations from that Inquiry - which the Government has already agreed to in principle - will be considered as part of the review. These include expanding the scope of the Privacy Act to cover technical data and other online identifiers; and strengthening privacy notice and consent requirements. The review will be conducted by the Attorney-General’s Department and public submissions can be lodged up until 29 November 2020. A report of the review will be released following government consideration. It is separate to the work already being undertaken to increase the maximum civil penalties under the Privacy Act, and to develop a binding privacy code for social media platforms and other online platforms that trade in personal information. The issues paper and further information about the review and consultation are available on the Privacy Act review page on the Attorney-General’s Department website.


The Rights Resource Network SA is planning on hosting a workshop event to discuss the implications of the inquiry and the government's review in mid November. Please be in touch directly with Dr Sarah Moulds should you wish to be part of this discussion