There are laws in Australia that are designed to protect the privacy of its residents, both adults and children.

What is Privacy?

Privacy has sometimes been described as:
  • the right to be left alone, or
  • the right to exercise control over one’s personal information, or
  • a set of conditions necessary to protect our individual dignity and autonomy.

We often think about privacy in different ways, for example:
  • physical privacy - such as bag searching, use of our DNA
  • information privacy – the way in which governments or organisations handle our personal information such as our age, address, sexual preference and so on.
  • freedom from excessive surveillance – our right to go about our daily lives without being surveilled or have all our actions caught on camera.
In different situations we may prefer one or other definition. We may also choose to emphasise different aspects of privacy depending on the reasons why we think that privacy is important.

From PrivacyNSW: Office of the NSW Privacy Commissioner

Why is Privacy Important?

Privacy is important because it is:
  • a way of controlling the power which people or organisations gain through collecting and storing information about others,
  • a means of securing the trust which people expect in return for providing accurate information about themselves,
  • a necessary condition for living in a society which values freedom and diversity, and
  • the basis on which we form meaningful relations with other people by deciding how much of ourselves to reveal or conceal to any given person.
From PrivacyNSW: Office of the NSW Privacy Commissioner

What is the Privacy Act?

The Australian Privacy Act 1988 of Australia protects the personal information of individuals in society.  Personal information is any information that identifies you or could identify you.  This includes your name and address, as well as medical records, bank account details, videos, photographs, and even your opinions.

The Privacy Act defines personal information as being "... information or an opinion (including information or an opinion forming part of a database), whether true or not, and whether recorded in a material form or not, about an individual whose identity is apparent, or can reasonably be ascertained, from the information or opinion."

What does the Privacy Act Include?

The Australian Privacy Act 1988 includes eleven Information Privacy Principles (IPPs) that government agencies must comply with when collecting and storing information about individuals. 

It also includes ten National Privacy Principles that some private organisations have to
comply with in relation to personal information they hold. 

The Australian Law Reform Commission's privacy inquiry report of 2008 recommended that the Privacy Act be amended to introduce statutory causes of action for serious invasions of privacy in relation to young people, but no actions have yet been taken (Forde & Stockley, 2009).

Individual Accountability

Unfortunately, the Australian Privacy Act 1988 does not cover individuals acting in a personal capacity.  It only covers the collection, use or disclosure of personal information by individuals in the course of running a business (Information Sheet Private Sector 12).

However, there are other laws in Australia which can protect people from invasions of privacy, such as laws governing harassment, but the information on these laws is not as easily found as the ones which govern the government and private organisations.  The current legal framework of Australia struggles to deal with cyberbullying.  There have been a few cases in Australia where cyberbullying issues, including privacy breaches and harassment, have led to an actionable tort or sentence (Longwill, 2010).

School and Teacher Liability

Schools and teachers may be liable for negligence if they breach their duty of care.  This occurs if they fail to take reasonable steps to prevent harm occurring to the student.  This now includes harm that can occur to students through their use of computers and other information technology available through the school.  This includes exposure to inappropriate content, disclosure of information, and cyberbullying (Forde & Stockley, 2009).


Forde, L. & Stockley, R. (2009).  Techno nightmare: Legal issues for teachers and schools. Teacher, (202), 48-51.
Longwill, T. (2010). Cyberbullying: Like any disease, we need to manage it. Teacher, (211), 48-52.