The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) has recommended in
its Final Report on privacy law reform that the Privacy Act
1988 (Cth) be amended to include a new definition of
Current definition of 'personal information'
'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'.
Proposed new definition 'personal information'
'Information or an opinion, whether true or not, and whether
recorded in a material form or not, about an identified
or reasonably identifiable individual'.
The words in brackets have been deleted since the definition of
'record' expressly includes 'information stored in
electronic or other formats'.
Further, the new definition will mean that the Privacy Act will
apply to information about an individual who is 'identified or
reasonably identifiable', an amendment which will bring the Act
more into line with other jurisdictions and international
instruments including the APEC Privacy Framework, the OECD
Guidelines, the Council of Europe Convention and the EU
The ALRC supports this wording because it captures information
which, when combined with other information, would identify an
individual. This includes other information the organisation has in
its possession or other information the organisation has the
capacity to access or is likely to access without unreasonable cost
or difficulty. Under the current definition, if an individual's
identity cannot reasonably be ascertained 'from the information
or opinion' then the information will not be personal
information. Therefore the new wider definition of 'personal
information' will be relevant to all organisations and agencies
because information that is held by them may now be subject to the
Information that simply allows an individual to be contacted,
such as a telephone number, a street address or an IP address, in
isolation, would not fall within the recommended definition of
'personal information'. To assist organisations, the ALRC
recommends that the Privacy Commissioner develop and publish
guidance on the meaning of 'identified or reasonably
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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