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 and separate privacy regimes apply to state and territory public sectors. We assist the Attorney-General to administer the Privacy Act.
The Privacy Act was significantly amended in 2014 and 2017 to enhance the protection of privacy in Australia.
Find out more about the history of the Privacy Act on the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner website.
Privacy Act reforms
The Privacy Act Review commenced in 2020 following recommendations by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in its 2019 Digital platforms inquiry – final report.
On 16 February 2023 the Attorney-General publicly released the Privacy Act Review Report.
We sought feedback to inform the government response to the Privacy Act Review Report.
The completion of the Privacy Act Review followed amendments to the Privacy Act that commenced on 13 December 2022 to increase maximum penalties under the Privacy Act and provide the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner with enhanced enforcement powers.
Notifiable Data Breaches scheme
The Notifiable Data Breaches scheme commenced as part of the Privacy Act on 22 February 2018.
The scheme requires notification to affected individuals and the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) where an entity subject to the Privacy Act experiences a data breach of personal information which poses a likely risk of serious harm to affected individuals.
For more information about the scheme, visit the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner website.
Australian Privacy Principles
The Privacy Act provides 13 Australian Privacy Principles (APPs). The APPs apply to government agencies and private sector organisations with an annual turnover of $3 million or more. The APPs are principles-based - protecting privacy while not burdening agencies and organisations with inflexible prescriptive rules. 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 OAIC is responsible for investigating breaches of the APPs and credit reporting provisions. The OAIC's powers include:
- 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.
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.