Privacy complaints dropped by a third in FY15

Public more aware of the right to file complaints, said the OAIC

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) received 2841 privacy complaints during FY2015, a 33 per cent decrease on the 4239 received in the previous financial year, according to its annual report.

However, the report says out that this was still a “significant increase” over previous years and may reflect a growing awareness among Australians of privacy as an issue of concern. It could also signal that the community is more aware of the formal right to make a complaint due to the Privacy Act reforms, said the report.

The OAIC finalised 1976 privacy complaints during the year.

The privacy watchdog 110 voluntary data breach notifications in FY15, up from 71 in the previous year.

“In terms of our privacy functions, the OAIC’s focus this year was on working collaboratively with business, Australian Government agencies and consumer groups to embed the most significant reforms to the Privacy Act 1988 (Privacy Act) since its enactment,” said acting Australian Information Commissioner, Timothy Pilgrim.

For example, the OAIC produced a range of privacy resources including the Privacy Management Framework, which it released in May.

“The framework will assist businesses and government to achieve good privacy practice by embedding a culture of privacy into their everyday processes. We are also helping consumers to understand their privacy rights through a range of accessible, plain-English, publications,” Pilgrim said.

Agencies and ministers covered by the FOI Act received 35,550 freedom of information requests, up from 24.9 per cent the previous year.

Agencies and ministers determined 25.5 per cent more requests and finalised 22.5 per cent more requests in FY15 than in the previous reporting period, with access to documents granted in full or in part in just over 89 per cent of all requests determined.

The report notes the Australian government’s intention – announced in May 2014 – to disband the OAIC and put in place new arrangements for FOI and privacy administration.

“To date, the Freedom of Information Amendment (New Arrangements) Bill 2014 has not been considered by the Senate. As such, the OAIC continues to undertake the full breadth of privacy functions and to carry out the FOI IC review function,” states the report.

Resources have been provided to the OAIC for the exercise of the FOI IC review function for 2015–16. Funding for privacy functions has been appropriated to the OAIC for the period 2015–16.

However, the OAIC’s budget allocation for 2015–16 does not include activities in the area of information policy.

FOI complaints have been handled by the Commonwealth Ombudsman since 1 November 2014, and FOI policy activities are currently being undertaken by the Attorney-General’s department, the report said.

“Due to resourcing constraints, the OAIC has not undertaken a specific work program in relation to its information policy functions. However, information policy issues form part of the OAIC’s privacy and freedom of information work generally,” states the report.

In July Pilgrim finished his term as Privacy Commissioner and was appointed acting Australian Information Commissioner following the resignation of Professor John McMillan on 31 July.

In August the government reappointed Pilgrim to the Privacy Commissioner role. However, his new term is only 12 months.

Read more: Your face is part of Australia's 'national security weapon': should you be concerned?

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