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Managing privacy issues

PROPERTY managers will have to review direct marketing techniques that make use of personal information when the Privacy Act becomes law in less than two months.

Direct marketing techniques, where personal information is collected, such as surveys, mail-outs, competitions and tele-marketing, will be regulated under the new Privacy Laws.

The new law comes into effect on December 21 this year and requires organisations with a turnover of more than $3 million, which usually would include property managers, to obtain consent from individuals if they wish to use the information they collected from these forms of marketing activities.

Jackson McDonald associate Anthony Connor advised property managers who used any of these marketing techniques as part of their marketing strategy to review them.

“The new laws will not prevent direct marketing, but they will regulate the use of personal information, other than for the purpose it was originally collected,” Mr Connor said.

“In the past, vast amounts of personal information have been used and passed on to third parties without the knowledge or consent of the individual.”

Under the Privacy Act, organisations must not collect personal information unless it is necessary for one or more of its functions, and can only use the information for the primary purpose it was collected and some secondary purposes.

Personal information is defined by the Act as information capable of identifying a person, such as name and address, whereas sensitive information identifies a person and may include details such as religious beliefs, trade union membership and other details about an individual.

Property managers must obtain an individual’s consent, either express or implied, to use personal information for a purpose other than that for which it was originally collected.

Where the information is used for direct marketing, the individual also must be able to ‘opt-out’ of receiving further marketing material.

Mr Connor gave the example of ‘cold call letters’ that many real estate agents and property managers used, which contained information that could identify an individual.

“Use of such letters would not offend the new Privacy Act provided individuals are told what will happen with their information if they choose to give it and there was included in the letter an appropriately worded opt-out provision,” Mr Connor said.

Property managers Colliers Jardine have reviewed their marketing practises and will be making some small changes, according to residential executive Nicholas Wells.

“When we speak to people we will obviously be asking them personal information, names and addresses, but we will also be asking them if they would like to receive further information from us and on what subjects,” Mr Wells said.

“And at the end of each year we will be posting everyone on our database a letter asking them to reconfirm these details.”

He said clients would be given an option to be removed from the database by simply not responding to the letter within 28 days.

“This will also help with the quality control of our database to make sure it is up to date and accurate, which is one of the National Privacy Principles,” Mr Wells said.

He expected the property sector would have to review its marketing techniques, and general privacy policy.

“I see this as a positive way to show that our firm is prof-

essional and we respect people’s privacy,” Mr Wells said.

“And I think firms that do demonstrate a commitment to privacy will stand out head and shoulders above others and people will want to do business with them.

“It may not result in an overall competitive advantage, but a privacy policy will set businesses aside from the rest.”

Federal Privacy Commissioner Malcolm Crompton has warned against using publicly available documents, including the electoral roll and land title information, for commercial purposes, such as direct marketing.

At a Property Council forum, Mr Crompton said the Electoral Act did not prevent businesses from purchasing the electoral roll, sending it off-shore to be turned into a database and then using it for commercial purposes, however these actions could be seen as against the spirit of the Act.

“The deal with the electoral roll is that for people to live in a democratic society we require them to compulsorily disclose quite a lot of information about themselves,” Mr Crompton said.

“Many Australians believe with the deal there should be limitations with what can be done with the information, hence the limitations in the Act. The only reason the Act does not work is because it is out of date, not because of the spirit of the law.

“Law has not necessarily caught up with that concept but it will because there is disquiet about use of public registers for commercial purposes. The primary reason you are on any public register is not for someone to market to you but to make sure certain processes actually work.”

Mr Crompton also recomm-ended organisations that dealt with large amounts of personal information undertake a privacy audit examining how it dealt with the different stages of the “information life cycle”.

“The National Privacy Princi-ples are the core of this law and they are built around the information life cycle, which involves collecting information, storing it, keeping it secure, making sure it is of good quality, using it and disclosing it and giving people access to their own information,” he said.

“And we have set in place a few rules at each of those stages.”

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