Beware increased government fines for privacy breaches
Companies should be aware of laws governing privacy breaches, consumer rights and the sending of emails, as the federal government has increased fines that could hit firms which even unwittingly break the law.
On 1 July 2017 government imposed fines under Commonwealth law were increased from $180 to $210 per penalty unit.
Legislation increasing penalties for breaches of federal law
That $30 increase per unit can mount up when civil penalty provisions in the Privacy Act 1988 can amount to 2000 units.
The laws governing privacy are complex and can trap unwary businesses that are not fully versed in all the latest changes to the law.
The law can even catch companies that send out a lot of well-meaning emails offering their services. With the huge growth in data on individuals, it can be relatively easy to breach provisions in the Privacy Act that spell out how firms, organisations and authorities must handle, use and manage personal information.
As technology evolves, the law can be slow catching up. Over recent years the government has brought in numerous changes to the law and significantly increased obligations for the protection of personal information by companies and organisations.
The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner has published a guide to civil penalties for serious or repeated interference with privacy.
Journalist starts privacy bid to access his own metadata
A landmark case earlier this year highlighted the uncertainty of the laws governing privacy. A Fairfax journalist spent 15 months trying to access his own internet and phone metadata, arguing that he should have access when councils, law enforcement, spies and even the RSPCA could get this information under the law.
The long battle ended in January 2017 when the Federal Court in Privacy Commissioner v Telstra Corporation Limited  FCAFC 4 came down firmly on the side of the government’s definition of privacy law and dismissed the journalist’s application to see his own metadata.
The judgment significantly narrowed the legal definition of what constitutes personal information. It effectively makes the law concerning privacy even more complex in the digital linked world we now live in.
This can be particularly vital in matters that could end up in the Family Court, as well as business matters. While the court must protect personal information it holds, the pressure to reveal data that may affect a family separation or business civil case can be enormous. It is important to know your rights regarding personal information should you be caught up in this situation.
For more information please see our July 2021 article NSW set to introduce mandatory data breach notification scheme to protect privacy.