The Privacy Act 1988 (Privacy Act) is the principal piece of Australian legislation protecting the handling of personal information about individuals. This includes the collection, use, storage and disclosure of personal information in the federal public sector and in the private sector. Other statutory provisions also affect privacy.

Separate privacy regimes also apply to state and territory public sectors.

Significant amendments to the Privacy Act were passed by Parliament on 29 November 2012 reforming Australian privacy laws. These reforms enhance the protection of privacy in Australia. The Privacy Amendment (Enhancing Privacy Protection) Act 2012 came into force on 12 March 2014.

This department assists the Attorney-General to administer the Privacy Act.

The Privacy Act provides 13 Australian Privacy Principles (APPs). The APPs apply to government agencies and many private sector organisations (those with an annual turnover of $3 million or more). The APPs replace the Information Privacy Principles (IPPs for government agencies) and the National Privacy Principles (NPPs for the private sector). The APPs:

  • deal with all stages of the processing of personal information, setting out standards for the collection, use, disclosure, quality and security of personal information
  • provide obligations on agencies and organisations subject to the Privacy Act concerning access to, and correction of, an individual's own personal information.

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) is responsible for investigating breaches of the APPs. The OAIC provides information on privacy to individuals, businesses and agencies through their enquiries line. More information is available on the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner website.

The Privacy Act contains enhanced powers for the OAIC including:

  • accepting enforceable undertakings
  • seeking civil penalties in the case of serious or repeated breaches of privacy
  • conducting assessments of privacy performances for both Australian Government agencies and businesses.