Privacy an issue worth looking at

CONFRONTED with a daily bombardment of marketing e-mails, telemarketing phone calls and direct mailing, consumers are increasingly rejecting the methods used by the marketing industry to collect personal information.

As a pre-cursor to the end-of-year review of the Privacy Act, an information sheet has been released by the Office of the Federal Privacy Commissioner spelling out just how the Privacy Act applies to the collection and use of personal information gathered from public sources.

According to the Minter Ellison privacy update report, the application of the Privacy Act to the collection and use of personal information gathered from sources such as books, magazines, telephone directories, web sites, electoral rolls has been unclear to many.

The main points that have been clarified are:

p the Privacy Act applies to personal information that is publicly available, provided it is collected for storage in a record or other generally available publication; and

p many ordinary businesses uses of publicly available information will not qualify as collections of information for Privacy Act purposes, eg using a telephone book.

Minter Ellison partner Kent Grey said it was the further extraction of personal information from a public source for inclusion in a record, such as an organisation’s database of clients or a generally available publication, that constituted a breach of the privacy law.

“Up until now people were not sure if they ran their finger down a phonebook whether they were breaching the Privacy Act,” he said. 

“If they convert the data – for example when a page is copied from a telephone directory and entered on to a organisation’s database for marketing – it raises privacy issues.”

Mr Grey said businesses might need to consider their obligations under a range of legislation when collecting information from publicly available sources.

Australian Direct Marketing Association chief executive Rob Edwards said the information represented a commonsense approach that was welcomed by the charitable sector, which was concerned about the potentially negative impacts on its ability to raise funds if access to publicly available registers was restricted.

“The information sheet ends uncertainty and confusion surrounding collection of data from publicly available sources,” he said.

“Privacy protection is an ongoing process and the new information sheet provides a useful opportunity for direct marketers to review their policies and compliance programs.”

The Capital Group State manager Kate O’Hara said the Privacy Act had cleaned up the industry, initiating marketing database overhauls, to the benefit of the marketing industry.

“The industry does have to be reminded all the time of its privacy obligations,” she said.

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