Protecting personal information

Written on the 7 February 2014 by Macmillans Waller Fry

As businesses prepare for the Privacy Act reforms that are coming into play in March 2014, it is important they also look at the security of the personal information they hold.

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) has released a “Guide to Information Security: reasonable steps to protect personal information.”

This Guide provides information to businesses on the measures they need to be taking to protect personal information, including sensitive information.

Currently, the Information Privacy Principles (IPPs) and the National Privacy Principles (NPPs) require businesses to take ‘reasonable steps’ to protect the personal information that they hold from misuse, loss and from unauthorised access, use, modification or disclosure.

This obligation is retained in the new Australian Privacy Principles (APPs). However, it is important to note that APP 11 requires a business to take the further step of protecting personal  information from ‘interference.’

The inclusion of this is intended to recognise that attacks on personal information could also include interference such as computer hacking.

When the OAIC investigates a potential breach of the APPS, it will consider two factors: 

  1. the steps that the business took to protect the information 
  2. whether those steps where reasonable in the circumstances

Here are some steps and strategies that businesses could consider in order to protect personal information:

IT security: Using effective IT measures, as well as ensuring websites are secure and safe for individuals to use.

Physical security: Regulating access to the workplace and securing workshops and storage areas.

Testing: Regular testing of security systems to identify any weaknesses that require attention.

Workplace policies: Training staff on their responsibilites under the businesses privacy policy, as well as conducting compliance reviews.

The Guide also outlines what is considered to be a ‘reasonable step’ in ensuring the security of personal information. This includes the nature of the business holding the  personal information, the nature of the information being held, the risk of harm and the data handling practices.

Whilst the Information Security Guide is not binding, the OAIC has stated that it will refer to the Guide when assessing a business’s  compliance with its obligations under the Privacy Act.

Author: Macmillans Waller Fry


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