The importance of privacy
A good understanding of the importance of privacy, and why it needs protection, is key to your role.
This is important for your own sake as it will motivate the work that you do. But your ability to explain the importance of privacy to others within your organisation will also be invaluable.
It will encourage others to protect personal information because they will better understand why doing so is important. It will also make it more likely that your colleagues will seek your advice and support.
Human right to privacy
Privacy is recognised as an individual human right in various international treaties and conventions such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
In Victoria, a right to privacy is included in section 13 of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006, which says that everyone has the right not to have their privacy, family, home or correspondence unlawfully or arbitrarily interfered with.
Information privacy is crucial to the broader right to privacy. It relates to an individual’s ability to determine for themselves when, how, and for what purpose their personal information is handled by others.
Protecting privacy is key to ensuring human dignity, safety and self-determination. It allows individuals freely develop their own personality.
The right to privacy is also recognised as an enabling right as it facilitates the enjoyment of other human rights such as freedom of expression; freedom of thought, conscience and religion; freedom of assembly and association; and the right to be free from discrimination. In this way, it serves as a foundation of a democratic society.
Impacts of interferences with privacy
Interferences with an individual’s privacy can result in many different types of harm for an individual such as:
- Reputational damage
- Embarrassment or humiliation
- Emotional distress
- Identity theft or fraud
- Financial loss
- Physical harm
- Disruption of government services
- Feeling of disempowerment
But failing to respect the right to privacy can also have wider societal impacts. It can lead to the erosion of public trust and a lack of willingness to engage with government. For government organisations, this can mean failures of programs, projects and operations and the public outcomes that they seek to achieve.
As such, it is vital that Victorian public sector organisations are transparent and appropriately handle citizens’ personal information to ensure that they retain the trust of the community.
Janet and her children are survivors of family violence and receiving services from a government Department. The Department accidentally discloses some documents to the perpetrator of the family violence that includes Janet and her children’s personal information.
In this scenario, Janet and her children could face physical harm as well as severe emotional damage. They may be required to relocate from their home and may lose trust with the Department and no longer engages with their services.
Graham is an employee of a university. He makes a complaint to HR about the conduct of some of his colleagues. During the investigation, the university discloses information about Graham’s complaint throughout the organisation, and details of his complaint become common knowledge amongst his colleagues and the university’s management team.
In this scenario, Graham could be humiliated and may experience distress because of the disclosures.
Zara applies for a role at a statutory agency. The application process requires Zara to send the agency a large amount of personal information, including identity documents. The agency fails to store the application securely and their systems are hacked. Zara’s information is obtained by the third party who uses her identity documents to steal money from her bank account.
In this scenario, Zara has suffered financial loss as well as emotional distress because of the breach.