January 15, 2020

Personal information meaning for privacy laws

Photo by Dayne Topkin instagram.com/daynetopkin

Personal information meaning for privacy laws

28 January 2021

Your business privacy policy allows you to explain what, how and why you are collecting certain personal information. 

Also, your privacy policy gives peace of mind to the people you are collecting information from, that their personal information will be handled with care. 

Understanding the meaning of personal information is important so you can comply with privacy laws. 

Below is a simple guide. 

Guiding principle when in doubt

The Office of the Australian information Commissioner (OAIC) recommends that if you are unsure if information is personal to err on the side of caution by treating the information as personal and handling it that way.

I also recommend that if you are collecting information you think may be personal, that you include this information and the reason you are collecting it in your privacy policy.

Personal information meaning

Below is the meaning of personal information. 

Information or an opinion about an identified individual, or an individual who is reasonably identifiable:

  1. whether the information or opinion is true or not; and
  2. whether the information or opinion is recorded in a material form or not.

Within the definition, there is no mention of technology to allow for changes in the way information is handled over time.

Personal information types

The information below is personal information under the Privacy Act. 

  • sensitive information (includes information or opinion about an individual’s racial or ethnic origin, political opinion, religious beliefs, sexual orientation or criminal record, provided the information or opinion otherwise meets the definition of personal information)
  • health information (which is also ‘sensitive information’)
  • credit information
  • employee record information, and
  • tax file number information

Also, even if some information is not classified as personal under the Privacy Act, it may be under other legislation like the Telecommunications Act 1979 (Cth). 

Personal information test 

Personal information must be: 

  1. About an identified individual - for example, person is the subject matter of the information or opinion;
  1. About an individual that’s reasonably identifiable. 

Examples of personal information 

Below are some practical examples of personal information from the Office of Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) website: 

  • customer contact file with their name, email 
  • school newsletter with details about students competing in a sports event.

Do you have questions or comments personal information? Be sure to leave them below. 

About the author 

Vivian Michael

As founder and lawyer at Michael Law Group, Vivian advises Australia's top entrepreneurs on business and employment matters. Clients benefit from Vivian's commercially focussed and pragmatic legal advice, business experience, and commitment to deliver the best quality business legal services to her clients.

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