26 September 2023

OAIC hosts meeting, issues virus guide

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The Australian Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner has convened the national COVID-19 Privacy Team to bring together Australia’s privacy and information authorities during the pandemic.

The Commissioner, Angelene Falk (pictured) said Privacy Commissioners and Ombudsmen fully appreciated the significant challenges facing Government during the health crisis.

“The use of personal information is part of addressing this public health crisis,” Ms Falk said.

“Privacy laws at the State, Territory and Federal level contain mechanisms to permit the exchange of critical information in these circumstances,” she said.

“Those laws also require that personal information is handled in a way that is reasonably necessary to prevent and manage COVID-19 and is protected.”

She said that as entities moved quickly to find solutions to public health and economic problems, privacy of information was an important consideration.

“Privacy Commissioners and Ombudsmen reiterate the value of conducting short-form Privacy Impact Assessments to help ensure personal information is handled in a way that is necessary, reasonable and proportionate,” Ms Falk said.

“We have convened a National COVID-19 Privacy Team between the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) and States and Territories with privacy laws to respond to proposals with national implications.”

Members joining Ms Falk as part of the Privacy Team were the Victorian Information Commissioner, Sven Bluemmell; New South Wales Privacy Commissioner, Samantha Gavel; Queensland Information Commissioner, Rachael Rangihaeata; Queensland’s Privacy Commissioner, Philip Green; Tasmanian Ombudsman, Richard Connock; and Northern Territory’s Information Commissioner, Peter Shoyer.

Ms Falk said the Privacy Act did not stand in the way of exchanging critical information during the health crisis, but ongoing changes to working arrangements had the potential to affect Agencies’ ability to meet statutory timeframes under the Freedom of Information Act.

“We’re encouraging Agencies to use self-service or administrative access schemes where possible to provide access to information,” Ms Falk said.

“They should also consider any potential delays early in the process and seek agreement with applicants to extend the timeframe where required, or where necessary apply to the OAIC for an extension, clearly setting out the factors contributing to the delay.”

Ms Falk’s Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) has published privacy guidelines for members and Agencies of the Australian Public Service.

Entitled Coronavirus (COVID-19): Understanding your privacy obligations to your staff, the 4-page guidelines can be accessed at this PS News link.

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