Guide to securing personal information

Haythem Elmir



This ‘Guide to securing personal information’ (Guide) provides guidance on the reasonable steps entities are required to take under the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) (Privacy Act) to protect the personal information they hold from misuse, interference, loss, and from unauthorised access, modification or disclosure. It also includes guidance on the reasonable steps entities are required to take to destroy or de-identify personal information that they hold once it is no longer needed (unless an exception applies).

This guide is intended for use by entities covered by the Privacy Act, including organisations, agencies, credit reporting bodies (CRBs), credit providers and tax file number recipients. However, this guide may also be relevant to organisations not subject to the Privacy Act as a model for better personal information security practice.

This guide is not legally binding. However, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) will refer to this guide when undertaking its Privacy Act functions, including when investigating whether an entity has complied with its personal information security obligations (s 40) or when undertaking an assessment (s 33C). Information on when and how we might exercise our regulatory powers is available in the OAIC’s Privacy Regulatory Action Policy.

Entities subject to the Privacy Act should read this guide in conjunction with the Australian Privacy Principles guidelines (APP guidelines). The APP guidelines outline the mandatory requirements of the Australian Privacy Principles (APPs), how the OAIC will interpret the APPs, and matters the OAIC may take into account when exercising functions and powers under the Privacy Act.

The introductory sections of this guide include a discussion of what is personal information security, why you should have it, and how you should protect personal information through the stages of its lifecycle. Part A discusses five general circumstances that affect what steps an entity should take to protect personal information. Under nine broad topics, Part B outlines examples of key steps and strategies you should consider taking to protect personal information including a number of questions you should ask yourself when considering or implementing these steps or strategies.

This guide assumes some knowledge of privacy and security concepts. Additional information and resources is available in Appendix B.

The Privacy Act, the APPs, and other obligations

The Privacy Act includes 13 APPs that regulate the handling of personal information by certain organisations and Australian Government (and Norfolk Island) agencies (APP entities).

APP 11 requires APP entities to take active measures to ensure the security of personal information they hold and to actively consider whether they are permitted to retain this personal information.

Specifically, APP 11.1 states that an APP entity that holds personal information must take reasonable steps to protect the information from misuse, interference and loss, as well as unauthorised access, modification or disclosure.

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