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Articles and legal news from the Atkinson Vinden Team.

Cautionary Tale when Dealing with Personal Information

General

A recent finding by the Privacy Commissioner demonstrates just how careful you must be when collecting personal information from individuals. If you are not careful, you may breach the Privacy Act without realising it.

A blind man who had recently undergone medical treatment for cancer was waiting to board a flight. As a part of his ongoing treatment he was required to use a particular medical device, which could only be turned off during take off and landing. He had a letter from his hospital, which was shown to employees of AeroCare (which provides passenger services for an airline). He was approached by AeroCare and asked a series of questions regarding the nature of his illness. This took place in front of other passengers and the individual’s guide, and resulted in information he wished to be kept private being disclosed to others.

The individual complained to the Privacy Commissioner. While the Privacy Commissioner accepted the argument that the collection of information was necessary for AeroCare’s functions, it was held that AeroCare had failed to take reasonable steps to ensure the security of the individual’s personal information, and prevent it from disclosure. At the very least AeroCare should have given the individual the opportunity to answer the questions away from the sitting area of the departure gate, and away from the individual’s guide.

This case demonstrates that the act of collecting information can at the same time constitute a disclosure. When collecting a person’s personal information, it is crucial that you do this in such a way to ensure that no other person will be able to hear or see the information as it is being collected.