In a recent determination, the Privacy Commissioner confirmed that intrusive gathering of personal information in a public forum may constitute a breach of privacy.Philippa Hore and Marc Hertz, Maddocks Lawyers
The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) received a complaint by an individual against Aerocare Pty Ltd (AeroCare) about the collection and disclosure of his sensitive personal information.
The Privacy Commissioner held that AeroCare interfered with the privacy of the complainant by publicly asking him questions about his medical condition in the departure lounge.
The complainant is blind and uses a sighted guide and a seeing eye dog. He had undergone surgery for cancer and had to wear a medical device as part of his recovery. He had chosen not to disclose the details of his medical condition to anyone, as he wanted to keep it private.
AeroCare provides passenger services for Virgin Australia at the Sunshine Coast airport. The complainant booked a flight with Virgin Australia, travelling from the Sunshine Coast to Melbourne. He was carrying a letter from his treating hospital which stated that he had to wear the medical device.
In the departure lounge, an AeroCare staff member asked the complainant a series of questions about his medical condition, including the type of cancer he had and the location of the wound from the surgery. These questions were asked in the presence of the complainant's sighted guide and in close proximity to a number of passengers.
It was alleged that AeroCare had interfered with the passenger's privacy by:
AeroCare responded, claiming that:
The OAIC determined that AeroCare interfered with the complainant's privacy.
Specifically, the OAIC found that AeroCare had breached:
The Privacy Commissioner determined that it was not relevant whether other passengers actually heard the information and, in any event, the Complainant's sighted guide certainly heard it. He held that AeroCare should have offered the complainant a more private location in which to question him about his medical condition and, because it did not, AeroCare's actions caused the complainant significant distress and humiliation.
To redress the matter AeroCare was required to:
Businesses that collect personal information from individuals in public places need to ensure their staff are aware of the need to be discreet.
In any event, businesses should be constantly mindful of APP 11 and the need to protect sensitive personal information from unauthorised disclosure at all times.
Privacy Commissioner, Tim Pilgrim, said in relation to this case:
For more information, contact Philippa Hore in the Maddocks Commercial Group on (03) 9258 3555.
You can read earlier ClearLaw articles concerning the privacy reforms and a wide range of other topics.
 'Questions for the Privacy Commissioner, Tim Pilgrim' by Melanie Marks, IPPANZ Privacy Unbound, Issue 52, April 2014, page 9.
Geoff Musgrove is a partner in the Maddocks Commercial team.
Geoff's principal areas of practice are:
Geoff acts for a wide range of commercial, government, accounting, manufacturing, professional and rural industry clients.
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For more information, contact Maddocks on (03) 9258 3555 and ask to speak to a member of their team.