Privacy complaints, FOI reviews on rise in 2018–19

Date: 21 October 2019
Tags: media release

Increases in privacy complaints and freedom of information requests and reviews last year demonstrate the increasing value the community places on information, according to Australian Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk.

“The trends we are seeing reinforce the importance of our mission: to increase public trust and confidence in the protection of personal information and access to government-held information,” Commissioner Falk said.

“Our annual report shows that organisations must act to meet the community’s expectations for information handling and management in a rapidly evolving environment.”

The 2018–19 annual report from the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner shows privacy complaints rose by 12% in 2018–19, to 3,306.

The majority were driven by privacy practices in six sectors: finance (13% of complaints), Australian Government (12%), health service providers (10%), telecommunications (7%), retail (5%), and online services (5%).

The most common issues raised with the OAIC were about use and disclosure, security, access, collection and the quality of personal information.

“Our role in investigating and conciliating privacy complaints is one of several regulatory tools we use to protect personal information rights and drive better privacy practices across the economy and government,” Commissioner Falk said.

“The current focus on digital platforms in Australia and overseas highlights the scale of the issues we face in safeguarding personal data, in our data-driven economy.

“Access to personal information also features strongly in both privacy complaints and requests for government-held information, under our national freedom of information (FOI) laws.”

FOI requests to Australian Government agencies and ministers grew by 13 per cent in 2018–19 to 38,879. The vast majority (83%) were for documents containing personal information.

The Department of Home Affairs, Department of Human Services and Department of Veterans’ Affairs received 69% of all FOI requests last year.

The number of applications for Information Commissioner (IC) review of FOI decisions increased by 16% in 2018–19, to 928. Over the past four years the number of IC review applications has climbed by more than 80% overall.

The top five agencies involved in IC reviews in 2018–19 were the Department of Home Affairs (198), Department of Human Services (104), Department of Veterans’ Affairs (47), Australian Federal Police (46) and Department of Defence (44).

“One of the main ways to reduce pressure on the FOI system is through more proactive publication of government information,” Commissioner Falk said.

“Combined with administrative access schemes, this will streamline agency operations and make more government information readily available to the community, which increases the transparency of public sector operations and decision-making.

“Encouraging proactive publication and timely processing of FOI requests is an ongoing priority for the OAIC.”

Ms Falk noted that the regulator has received additional funding for 2019–20 to 2021–22 to investigate and respond to privacy breaches and support stronger online privacy protections.

The OAIC is also working closely with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and Data61 to deliver the new Consumer Data Right.

A copy of the OAIC’s 2018–19 annual report can be found at oaic.gov.au/annual-reports

Key 2018–19 statistics

  • 3,306 privacy complaints received (up 12% compared to 2017–18)
  • 2,920 privacy complaints finalised (up 6%)
  • Average time to resolve a privacy complaint: 4.4 months
  • 17,445 privacy enquiries received (down 10%)
  • 950 notifications under the Notifiable Data Breaches scheme
  • 928 applications for Information Commissioner review of FOI requests (up 16%)
  • 659 IC reviews finalised (up 8%)
  • 61 FOI complaints received (no change from 2017–18)
  • Average time taken to finalise an IC review: 7.8 months

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