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Privacy

We don't give advice about this area of law.

The information below may help you resolve your matter or find out who else can help.

Changes to this area of law

There have recently been changes to this area of law. We are working to review the information on this page how these changes may affect you. 

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We are working to review the information on this page. 

Personal privacy is a human right, and no-one should be subjected to unlawful interference with their privacy.

In Australia, there are laws protecting your privacy in certain situations, including:

Find out what you can do to protect your privacy.

If you think someone has breached your privacy or used your personal information to steal your identity, get legal advice.

If someone tries to blackmail you by threatening to publish private photos or videos of you, report it to the police. If you or someone you know is at risk of immediate harm, call the police. In an emergency, call 000.

Protecting your privacy

There are things you can do to protect your privacy.

You should:

  • turn on the security features of your devices (mobile phone, tablet, laptops)
  • keep your phone, internet and social media usernames and passwords secret
  • change your passwords regularly
  • only accept friend requests from people you know
  • regularly review your privacy settings on social media (eg Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc)
  • be careful about who you give personal information to.

If you think someone has invaded your privacy, get legal advice.

Related resources:

Cyberbullying, sexting and Facebook

 Stay Smart Online (Department of Communications and the Arts)

 Who’s spying on your computer? Spyware, surveillance and safety for survivors (National Network to End Domestic Violence)

 Privacy & Safety on Facebook: A Guide for Survivors (Facebook and National Network to End Domestic Violence)

Taking photos or videos of private activities

If someone has taken or distributed photos or videos of your private parts or private activities, report it to the police.

In Queensland, there are laws which make it illegal to take or distribute photos or videos of someone’s private parts or private activities without their consent. 

It’s a criminal offence to take or distribute photos or videos of someone without their consent when the person is:

  • in a private place, or
  • doing a private act in circumstances where they would reasonably expect privacy.

Private acts may include things like undressing, using the toilet, showering or bathing or having sex in a place where a person would reasonably expect privacy.

It’s also a criminal offence to take or distribute photos or videos of someone’s genital or anal region without their consent in circumstances where they would reasonably expect privacy. This applies even if their genitals or anal region are covered by underwear.

For example, it’s illegal to use a mobile phone in a public place to take photos of women’s underwear under their skirts without their consent.   

The penalty for this type of offence is up 2 years jail.

It’s not illegal for some to take photos or video of you in a public place or in a situation where a person wouldn’t reasonably expect privacy.

Sharing photos or videos on the internet

If someone has taken or distributed photos or videos of your private activities online, report it to the police.

Under federal law, it may also be illegal for someone to share photos or videos of a person’s private activities on the internet without their consent (eg live streaming someone having sex without their permission).

The penalty for this type of offence is up to 3 years jail.

Taking photos or video of children in public places

It’s not illegal for people to take photos of your children in public places without your permission. The media may also take photos of children in public places without their parents' permission. However, some organisations such as sporting clubs may have specific policies about taking photos or videos of children in their venues.

Laws exist to protect children from the misuse of films or photos of them, including selling or possessing obscene material about children.

It’s illegal to create, send, possess or intend to possess images of someone aged (or who appears to be aged) under 18 in a sexual context or being a subject of torture, cruelty or abuse. Get legal advice.

Privacy and domestic violence

If someone tries to blackmail you by threatening to publish private photos or videos of you, report it to the police. If you or someone you know is at risk of immediate harm, call the police. In an emergency, call 000.

Perpetrators of domestic violence may use technology to stalk, abuse, control or harass. If someone is threatening to publish private photos or videos of you, report it to the police.

If they are the subject of a domestic violence order this behaviour may be in breach of the order which is an offence.

There are a range of domestic violence services  that can help to protect you and your privacy.

If you want to apply for a domestic violence order against someone, get legal advice.

Related resources:

Who’s spying on your computer? Spyware, surveillance and safety for survivors? (National Network to End Domestic Violence)

Privacy & Safety on Facebook: A Guide for Survivors (Facebook and National Network to End Domestic Violence)
 

Privacy at home

It’s not illegal for someone to take photos or videos of your home, unless they trespass  on your land, they are recording your private activities , it amounts to stalking or domestic violence , or if it causes a substantial and unreasonable interference with the use and enjoyment of your land .

You can refuse a person entry to your home or land that you own. If someone illegally enters your property or refuses to leave when you ask them to, they may be trespassing - get legal advice.

Recording private conversations

In Queensland, it’s not illegal to simply record a conversation you’re involved in (either over the phone or face-to-face) without the consent of the other people involved in the conversation, but there are restrictions on what you can do with the recording. It is illegal to record private conversations that you’re not involved in - get legal advice.

Publishing or communicating recordings of conversations

Even if you were involved in a conversation that was legally recorded, it’s still illegal to communicate the conversation or publish it without the permission of the other people involved in the conversation (with some exceptions). However, you may be able to use it as evidence in court proceedings.

It’s illegal to publish or communicate a private conversation that was listened to or recorded illegally and these recordings may not be used in court proceedings. Get legal advice.

Police recording conversations

Police interviews must be recorded electronically or in writing. In some situations when investigating an offence the police may sometimes secretly record conversations. There are laws about what police are allowed to do when investigating an offence. If the police obtain evidence outside of what they are allowed to do by law, then it can be challenged in court. Get legal advice.

For more information, see talking to the police.

Personal information held by government organisations 

Both state and federal government organisations have strict obligations about how they collect, store, use, disclose, update and amend your personal information. Generally, government organisations must keep your personal information confidential, but they may be allowed (or required) to disclose it in some circumstances.

If you think a government organisation has mishandled your personal information or has breached your privacy, you should make a complaint directly to them to try and resolve the dispute. If you’re unhappy with their response, you can make a complaint to the relevant information commissioner.

Related resources:

 For federal government:

The Privacy Act (Office of the Australian Information Commissioner) 

Privacy complaint checker (Office of the Australian Information Commissioner)

How to make a complaint (Office of the Australian Information Commissioner)

Privacy Act 1988

For state government:

Guidelines – Privacy principles (Office of the Information Commissioner)

Privacy complaint checklist (Office of the Information Commissioner)

How to make a complaint (Office of the Information Commissioner)

Information Privacy Act 2009

Making a complaint about a government organisation

If your complaint is about a Queensland government organisation, you can contact the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC).

Use the OIC’s privacy complaint checklist to find out how to make a complaint.

If your complaint is about a federal government organisation, you can contact the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC).

Use the OAIC’s privacy complaint checker to find out how to make a complaint.

Personal information held by private organisations

There are laws in Australia about how your personal information is collected, stored, used, disclosed, updated and amended by certain private sector agencies and organisations.

These private organisations must follow privacy principles when handling your personal information. In general these private organisations are required to keep your personal information confidential, but they may be allowed (or required) to disclose it in some circumstances.

Private organisations that must follow these privacy guidelines include:

  • businesses and not-for-profit organisations with an annual turnover of more than $3 million
  • private sector health service providers
  • businesses that buy or sell personal information
  • private contractors to the federal government
  • credit reporting agencies and credit providers (see credit reporting).

Not all private organisations are covered by these laws. There are many exceptions and even if an organisation is covered by these laws, some practices of the organisation may be exempt. 

If you think a private organisation has mishandled your personal information or breached your privacy, you can make a complaint to the OAIC.

Use the OAIC’s privacy complaint checker to find out if the organisation is covered by federal privacy laws and how to make a complaint.

Data breaches

A data breach is when personal information held by an agency or organisation covered by the Commonwealth Privacy Act is lost, stolen or misused.

In general, if there’s a real risk of serious harm due to the data breach the organisation must tell the individual whose information has been lost, stolen or misused and report it to the OAIC.

For more information read the OAIC’s Data breach notification guide.

Consumer credit information

There are strict rules about how consumer credit reporting agencies and credit providers must manage your consumer credit information.

If you think an agency or provider has mishandled your personal information or breached your privacy, you should make a complaint directly to them to try and resolve the dispute. If you’re unhappy with their response, you can make a complaint to the relevant ombudsman – for example:

You can also make a complaint to the OAIC.

Tenant and real estate information

Real estate agents and property managers have access to a lot of personal information. You may have to give personal information to a real estate agent when you:

  • apply to rent a property
  • are put on a tenancy database
  • are buying or selling property.

Real estate agents and property managers have strict obligations for how they may collect, store, use, disclose, update and amend  your personal information.

For more information view the Tenancy and privacy information on the OAIC’s website.

As a tenant in Queensland, you’re entitled to ‘quiet enjoyment’ of the property. The lessor or agent must not interfere with your reasonable privacy when using the premises.

If you have a dispute with a lessor or agent about a rental property, you can get legal advice from Tenants’ Queensland or a private lawyer.  

Related resources:

Tenancy Facts - Entry and Privacy (PDF, 298 KB) (Tenants Queensland)

Tenancy and privacy information  (OAIC)

Do I need legal advice?

You may need legal advice if you:

  • have been charged with a criminal offence
  • or your children are at risk of family violence or abuse.
  • think a credit reporting agency or credit provider has breached your privacy
  • think you have been the victim of identity theft
  • think an organisation has breached your privacy.

How to get legal advice

We may be able to give legal advice about criminal offences relating to domestic and family violence. We don’t give legal advice about information privacy.

We may be able to give legal advice if you have concerns about the use of consumer credit information that the OAIC can’t help you with.

The following organisations may be able to give legal advice.

QPILCH Self Representation Service (Federal) gives legal advice and help to people involved in civil proceedings in the Federal Circuit Court or Federal Court for matters involving information privacy. They may also help with drafting documents and correspondence. They don’t provide representation.

Lawmail is a legal advice service for young people that provides free legal advice to people under 18 via email.

Tenants Queensland can give legal advice about your rights as a tenant in Queensland.

Community legal centres may be able to give legal advice on a range of topics. Contact them to find out if they can help.

Queensland Law Society can refer you to a specialist private lawyer for advice or representation.

Who else can help?

These organisations may be able to help. They don’t give legal advice.

Office of the Australian Information Commissioner has information about laws governing individuals' rights to privacy, and deals with complaints about privacy concerns.

Office of the Information Commissioner promotes awareness of access to Queensland Government held information and the importance of protecting the persona information of individuals. They review specific agency decisions about access to, and amendment of information; mediate privacy complaints and help agencies comply with the privacy principles.

Stay Smart Online has information about how to protect your personal and financial information online.

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