The Commonwealth Privacy Act 1988
Interpretation and Annotations
From the Information Systems Perspective

Roger Clarke

Australian National University

Version of 31 March 1989

© Australian National University, 1989

Companion Pages are:

a short personal summary of the Act

an unofficial short form of the Information Privacy Principles

an assessment against the OECD Guidelines


A brief introduction to, and overview of, the Act are provided. The organisations which are affected by the Act are Commonwealth government agencies (with exceptions), and organisations which receive Tax File Number information. The Act applies not to personal data per se, but to 'records containing personal information'. Separate jurisdictions are identified, relating to the Information Privacy Principles (IPPs), and the Tax File Number (TFN).

The 'watchdog' arrangements are described, comprising the Privacy Commissioner within the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission, and the Privacy Commissioner's Privacy Advisory Committee.

The Information Privacy Principles, which are central to the Act's operation, are discussed at length. A number of matters of global significance are identified, and each Principle is then considered in turn.

The Privacy Commissioner's investigations function, powers and responsibilities are outlined and discussed. The different provisions relating to the IPP and TFN jurisdictions are highlighted, as are the differences between individual and representative complaints, and investigations at the Privacy Commissioner's own initiative.

The Privacy Commissioner's other functions, powers and responsibilities are presented, including matters specific to the IPP and TFN jurisdictions, and matters relevant to both.

An Appendix presents and discusses the Act's many complex definitions, and highlights several potential difficulties. The IPPs are reproduced in an Appendix, and a short form presented which attempts to communicate their essential meaning. The Interim Tax File Number Guidelines are reproduced in an Appendix. The final Appendix considers two trial complaints, to identify the degree of practical difficulty which the investigation procedures present.


Executive Summary 2

1. Introduction

1.1 History 4

1.2 Scope 4

1.3 Elements 5

1.4 Jurisdictions 6

2. The Privacy Commissioner & Advisory Committee

2.1 The Privacy Commissioner 8

2.2 The Privacy Advisory Committee 8

3. The Information Privacy Principles

3.1 Background 10

3.2 Global Considerations 10

3.3 The Principles 14

4. Investigations

4.1 The Privacy Commissioner's Functions and Powers 31

4.2 The Initiation of Investigations 31

4.3 Investigations of Complaints 33

4.4 Determination of Complaints 35

4.5 Review and Enforcement of Determinations 36

4.6 Investigations at the Privacy Commissioner's Initiative 37

5. Other Functions, Powers and Responsibilities

5.1 Global Functions, Powers and Responsibilities 40

5.2 The IPP Jurisdiction 41

5.3 The TFN Jurisdiction 45

5.4 The Interim TFN Guidelines (not included) 46

6. Miscellaneous 47


A. Definitions 48

B. The Information Privacy Principles 56

C. The IPPs - Unofficial Short Form 60

D. The Tax File Number Guidelines (not included) 61

E. Trial Complaints 62


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Last Amended: 5 May 1996

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