Privacy and confidentiality are two separate concepts that protect different types of information. ‘Privacy’ is used in relation to information that is protected under law (normally under the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth)), whereas ‘confidentiality’ refers to different information contained in valid contracts and agreements.

Understanding the differences between these terms is key in helping avoid confusion when seeking legal assistance with contracts, understanding how to rightfully maintain personal information or even in establishing successful lawyer-client relationships. This article will outline how these different types of classified information can be legally disclosed.

What does Privacy mean?

The term privacy traverses multiple contexts, including physical, surveillance and information privacy.

  • Physical privacy refers to an individual’s natural right to sustain their own physical space and/or bodily privacy. This form of privacy may be compromised when individuals are forced into invasive procedures such as genetic tests, drug testing and cavity searches.
  • Surveillance privacy concerns communications made by and between individuals, and protects the security and privacy of mail, telephones, e-mail and other forms of communication.
  • Information privacy relates to the government’s responsibility to regulate and protect individual’s data. The Federal Government is responsible for regulating collections of an individual’s personal data including credit information, and medical and government records.

Who does the Privacy Act apply to?

The purpose of the Act is to regulate and protect the personal, classified information belonging to individuals. The Act allows individuals to:

  • Ask for access to their personal information;
  • Know why your information is being collected, how it will be used and who it will be disclosed to;
  • Have the option not to identify themselves;
  • Ask for personal information that is incorrect to be corrected; and
  • Make a complaint about an organisation or agency the Act covers if you believe they have mishandled your personal information.

The Act applies to certain government agencies, organisations and businesses that produce an annual turnover that exceeds $3 million. This imposes obligations on businesses, not-for-profit organisations, clubs associations and employee union organisations in relation to handling personal data.

What does Confidentiality mean?

Confidentiality protects private information that is disclosed in a legal document or relationship. Common types of confidential relationships include between lawyers and clients, and between doctors and patients. Confidential agreements can be made in written or oral form.

Legal obligations to confidentiality

Confidential obligations are often sourced from case law. An obligation may be enforced through contract and is mostly commonly a confidentiality clause that binds parties to keep certain information classified. However, these obligations may vary depending on the nature of contractual terms. For example, in cases of commercial contracts, if a party breaches their confidentiality clause in any way they may be susceptible to breach of contract.

How Etheringtons Solicitors can help

A solicitor at Etheringtons Solicitors can provide further clarification of the relevant law and its relation to your individual circumstances. If you require assistance with understanding privacy or confidentiality obligations, do not hesitate to get in contact with our experienced team by calling (02) 9963 9800 or via our contact form.