What is privacy and why should I care?

As the use of personal information and data becomes critical in conducting modern-day business, its increasingly complex use raises several issues of privacy. As data volume grows, it is important to understand why privacy is important and how it can protect us from our information being misused.  

What is privacy?
Privacy encompasses a range of broad, but related concepts that include the following: 

  1. Information privacy: rules governing the collection and handling of your personal data

  2. Privacy of communications: concerning the confidentiality of mail, telephones, e-mail and other forms of communication; and

  3. Territorial privacy: being able to be free from interference and intrusion in your own environment. 

Given that privacy can be viewed in different ways (whether that be physically or online), it is important to recognise that privacy has psychological, sociological, economic, political and legal dimensions. Within the legal dimension, privacy can be viewed as a bundle of interests contained within the 13 Australian Privacy Principles (APP) that are protected by legislation to ensure that personal information used by businesses and government agencies are regulated.  

In addition to the commonwealth legislative protections, there are also a range of state level laws. Lastly the common law provides protections against the misuse of private information or intrusion on an individual’s seclusion or private affairs. 

Why should I care? 

As technological innovation continues to progress, personal information and data is constantly being collected and exchanged by individuals, companies and governments.  

Privacy protection empowers individuals to create limits on the way information about them is used to avoid unwanted interference or intrusion. This ability to protect against unwanted interference is an element of fundamental rights of individuals. 

Privacy protection limits the extent to which malicious actors can manipulate or exploit individuals. These actors range from  cybercriminals to domestic violence perpetrators to companies that are seeking to interfere with democratic processes. A famous example of this last group is evident in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, where personal information from over 50 million Facebook users were harvested and on sold to entities linked to Trump’s election campaign.

Robust and transparent privacy practices have ongoing benefits for organizations by building trust and public trust and consumer confidence. In 2017, the Australian Community Attitudes to Privacy Survey (ACAPS) reported that 58% of Australians chose not to deal with a business due to privacy concerns and that concerns about online privacy are continuing to rise. Accordingly, companies should strive to take active measures to protect – and be seen to be protecting – your clients’ and customers’ personal information will.  

In Australia, the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) regulates how businesses handle personal information including its collection, use, disclosure, storage and access. The Act prescribes serious consequences for businesses that fail to comply with these requirements, where a business involved in a data breach could be subject to fines of up to $2.1 million for organisations or $420,000 for individuals.

A failure to protect privacy already cost the Australian economy over $1 billion, with an average cost of $2.9 million for every Australian data breach incurred in 2019.