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What is the Privacy Act of 1988

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What is the Privacy Act of 1988?

The Australian Privacy Act 1988 (Privacy Act) was introduced to promote and protect the privacy of individuals and to regulate how Australian Government agencies and organisations with an annual turnover of more than $3 million, and some other organisations, handle personal information.

The Privacy Act gives individuals greater control over the way that their personal information is handled. The Privacy Act allows them to:

  • know why their personal information is being collected, how it will be used and who it will be disclosed to;
  • ask for access to their personal information (including health information);
  • stop receiving unwanted direct marketing;
  • ask for their personal information that is incorrect to be corrected;
  • make a complaint about an organisation or agency the Privacy Act covers.

Who has responsibilities under the Privacy Act?
Australian Government agencies (and the Norfolk Island administration) and organisations with an annual turnover more than $3 million have responsibilities under the Privacy Act, subject to some exceptions.

What small businesses are covered?

The Privacy Act cover some small business operators (organisations with an annual turnover of $3 million or less), including but not limited to:

  • a private sector health service provider
  • a business that sells or purchases personal information
  • a contracted service provider for a Australian Government contract
  • a business that is related to a business that is covered by the Privacy Act

When the Act was extended to the private sector in 2000, it exempted small business operators. The small business exemption was introduced in recognition of the potentially unreasonable compliance costs for certain small businesses, which were considered to pose little or no risk to the privacy of individuals. In the 20 years since the small business exemption was introduced, technology has changed the way
that small businesses operate. These advancements may mean that small businesses are increasingly
handling personal information and may now pose a higher privacy risk than previously. Consumer
attitudes to privacy may also have evolved since the introduction of the private sector amendments.

On 12 December 2019, the Attorney-General announced that the Australian Government would conduct a review of the Privacy Act 1988 to ensure privacy settings empower consumers, protect their data and best serve the Australian economy. The review was announced as part of the government’s response to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Digital Platforms Inquiry.



Office of the Australian Information Commissioner website —

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Dr. Mathieu Paapst LLM cipm

Dr. Mathieu Paapst LLM cipm

Expert IT and Privacy Law

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