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Centrelink debt recovery system

29 May 2018

On 28 February 2017, the former Australian Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner announced he had commenced inquiries with the Department of Human Services in response to media reports that Centrelink had released personal information into the public domain.

The Department submitted the disclosure was authorised by Australian Privacy Principle (APP) 6.2(a)(ii), which provides that if an APP entity holds personal information for a primary purpose, it may use or disclose it for a secondary purpose if the individual would reasonably expect it to do so, and the secondary purpose is related to the primary purpose.

Having carefully considered the specific public statements made by the Centrelink customer, and the specific information disclosed in response, the acting Australian Information Commissioner and acting Privacy Commissioner reached the conclusion that, in this instance, the disclosure was permitted by APP 6.2(a)(ii). The acting Commissioner had regard to the matters outlined in the case note L v Commonwealth Agency [2010] PrivCmrA 14 (24 December 2010) and in the Australian Privacy Principles Guidelines.

For more information about individual’s privacy rights and managing privacy obligations, visit www.oaic.gov.au.

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16 March 2017

On February 28, the Australian Privacy Commissioner announced he had commenced inquiries with the Department of Human Services regarding a release of personal information into the public domain. Those inquiries are ongoing.

On March 2, allegations arising from the same matter were referred to the Australian Federal Police. In order not to prejudice any proceedings in relation to this issue the Commissioner will not comment further on this matter until inquiries have concluded. 

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28 February 2017

Statement by the Australian Information and Privacy Commissioner, Timothy Pilgrim

I am aware of the media reports concerning this issue. My office is making inquiries with the Department of Human Services.

Government agencies are entrusted with a significant amount of personal information. This information must be handled in accordance with the Australian Privacy Principles.

An agency may only disclose an individual’s personal information in a limited range of circumstances.

If anyone has any concerns about how their personal information has been managed they can contact my office for assistance on 1300 363 992 or visit www.oaic.gov.au.

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6 January 2017

Statement by the Australian Information and Privacy Commissioner, Timothy Pilgrim

My office has been in contact with the Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman about this issue.

My office works closely with DHS and other government agencies to ensure they understand their privacy obligations and adopt best practice when undertaking data-matching activities. We also undertake assessments (formerly termed audits) of DHS’ data-matching activities to ensure that the personal information collected through these processes continues to be managed in accordance with the Privacy Act 1988.

In 2017 we will be finalising an ongoing assessment of the privacy aspects of DHS’s Enhanced Welfare Payment Integrity — non-employment income data-matching program, as well as conducting further assessments into their data-matching activities. The results of these assessments will be made available to the public at their conclusion.

No investigation has been opened in relation to this matter by my office. However, if anyone has any concerns about how their privacy has been managed they can contact my office for free confidential advice on enquiries@oaic.gov.au or 1300 363 992.

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