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Communtity Law Manual | Government Agencies | Getting access to information that’s about you: Privacy Act requests

Getting information from the government

Getting access to information that’s about you: Privacy Act requests

Note: A new Privacy Act comes into force on 1 December 2020, In this section we refer to both the existing Privacy Act 1993 and the new Privacy Act 2020.

Your right to information that’s held about you

Privacy Act 1993, s 6, principle 6; Part 4, ss 27–32; Privacy Act 2020 s 22 principle 6, ss 49–53

If a public (or private-sector) organisation holds information about you, and they can readily retrieve it, you have the right:

  • to get them to confirm for you whether or not they hold the information, and
  • to see the information.

Your request doesn’t have to be in writing. Also, although your right to see the information is given by the Privacy Act, you don’t have to specifically mention the Privacy Act when you ask.

The information-holder is allowed to withhold the information from you in certain cases – for example, if releasing it to you would also mean releasing information about another person. (For more details about when you can be refused access, see “How you can access your information, and correct it if necessary”, in the chapter “Privacy and information”.)

Usually the organisation must make the information available in the form that you want – for example, by giving you a written copy.

Privacy Act 1993, s 2; Privacy Act 2020 s 7

Note: The Privacy Act uses the term “personal information” as a key term in this area. By this it doesn’t mean information that by its nature is particularly private or sensitive – it means information that’s about an identifiable individual person.

How long do they have before they must reply to me?

Privacy Act 1993, s 40; Privacy Act 2020 s 44

The information-holder must respond to your request as soon as practicable, and not later than 20 working days after receiving it.

Will I have to pay anything for the information?

Privacy Act 1993, ss 35, 36; Privacy Act 2020 ss 66, 67

Public-sector agencies such as government departments can’t charge for giving people access to their information, unless they have permission from the Privacy Commissioner to charge a fee. The Commissioner will only give this permission if the agency would be commercially disadvantaged compared with a private-sector competitor if it has to provide the information free of charge.

How you can correct information held about you when it’s wrong

Privacy Act 1993, s 6, principle 7; Privacy Act 2020 ss 59–65

If a public (or private-sector) organisation holds information about you, and you think it’s wrong, you’re entitled to ask for them to correct it.

They’re not legally required to change it if they think the information is correct. However, if they don’t correct it you can require them to attach a statement to the original information saying what the correction was that you asked for.

(For more details about correcting your information, see “How you can access your information, and correct it if necessary”, in the chapter “Privacy and information”.)

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