Happy Privacy Awareness Week everyone!

Posted on 3 May 2012 by

Did you know that it’s Privacy Awareness Week? This event is all about promoting the community’s awareness about privacy rights and responsibilities.

As far as the records of Forgotten Australians are concerned, the issue of ‘privacy’ is often discussed in terms of how Australia’s various privacy laws create a barrier to people accessing vital information about their own family members. Protecting the privacy rights of ‘third parties’ can be emphasised by the agencies releasing records, at the expense of exercising their responsibility to provide people with access to information about them.

But privacy laws aren’t just about keeping information private, they also exist to ensure that organisations are open and transparent about what information they collect and hold, and that the people affected by this information have a right to access it. As the Victorian Privacy Commissioner pointed out in 2009, ‘privacy is not secrecy’.

Many Forgotten Australians who have been denied access to information about ‘third parties’ in their records feel that organisations are not getting the balance right. There is even an acronym for the reason often given by organisations denying someone’s request for access to information – BOTPA – which stands for “because of the Privacy Act”! BOTPA refers to the tendency of some organisations to inaccurately blame privacy legislation when they turn down requests for information, rather than using the privacy principles to make an informed decision about what information is appropriate to release.

One submission to the Senate Inquiry in 2004 demonstrates the impact of restrictive interpretation of privacy laws to deny people access to vital information about family members:

“The Department decides I cannot have certain information about MY parents. Why should the Department staff get to read the file about my parents and then relate it to me? How dare the Department decide that I cannot read about MY parents.”

(Forgotten Australians report, 2004, p.277)

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