Privacy complaints rose 12 per cent last financial year, totalling 3,306, according to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner’s latest annual report, released this week. 

Australia’s privacy watchdog says it resolved over 88 per cent of the complaints but on average it took nearly four and a half months to do so, up from 3.7 months in the previous year. The main remedy in these matters is the amendment of a record. 

FOI requests, and follow ups about government responses to them, also rose. The trends demonstrate the increasing value Australians place on information, according to the OAIC.

The collection and use of personal information was the primary concern of privacy complaints and the watchdog says the problem is being amplified by the rise of digital platforms, which faced a wide ranging review by the competition regulator this year.

“In our data-driven economy there is increasing recognition of the value of personal information,” Australian Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk wrote in the latest annual report.

“The past year’s focus on digital platforms in Australia and overseas has brought home the scale of the issues we confront in safeguarding personal data.”

Freedom of Information requests rising

Freedom of Information requests – the mechanism for accessing government held information – also continued to rise, up 13 per cent in 2018-19, as did Information Commissioner reviews – the requests to the watchdog to review government responses to FOI requests.

Over the past four years the number of Information Commissioner review applications has climbed by more than 80 per cent overall, adding weight to the current arguments of a federal government uncomfortable with increased transparency.

Falk urged government agencies to be more proactive in responding to FOI requests.

“One of the main ways to reduce pressure on the FOI system is through more proactive publication of government information,” Commissioner Falk said.

“Combined with administrative access schemes, this will streamline agency operations and make more government information readily available to the community, which increases the transparency of public sector operations and decision-making.

“Encouraging proactive publication and timely processing of FOI requests is an ongoing priority for the OAIC.”

The Department of Home Affairs, Department of Human Services and Department of Veterans’ Affairs received 69 per cent of all FOI requests last year.

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