Legal Briefing No. 63

Number 63

30 April 2002

Agency Obligations under the Privacy Act

The Privacy Amendment (Private Sector) Act 2000 (the
Amendment Act) amends the Privacy Act 1988 (the
Privacy Act) and came into effect on 21 December 2001.
The Privacy Act now establishes National Privacy Principles
(NPPs) as minimum privacy standards to which some private
sector organisations will be subject (Schedule 3). It also
contains provisions for organisations to develop privacy
codes that can operate in place of the legislative framework
(Part IIIAA).

Importantly, the Privacy Act imposes obligations on Commonwealth
agencies when entering into contracts to provide services
to or on behalf of the agency to apply the information
privacy principles (IPPs), some of the NPPs (NPPs 7-10)
and the requirements of section 16F of the Privacy Act.
Breaches of any of these principles and that section will
be an interference with privacy under section 16 of the
Privacy Act and complaints may be investigated by the Privacy
Commissioner who has power to award damages against the
contractor, called in the legislation a contracted service
provider (CSP) (section 6), and in some situations,
to substitute the agency for the CSP (sections 50A and

Organisations Subject to the Privacy Act

'Organisation' for the purposes of the Privacy Act is
defined in section 6C to mean an individual, body corporate,
partnership, unincorporated association or a trust that
is not exempt. There are a number of exemptions. The Privacy
Commissioner has described in PCO Information Sheet 12-2001
the different entities as follows:


The Privacy Act does not cover the collection, use and
disclosure of personal information by an individual unless
it is done in the course of running a business. The Privacy
Act does not apply to personal information that individuals
collect, hold, use or disclose for the purposes of their
personal, family or household affairs. The activities of
individuals operating a business in their own names may
be subject to the Privacy Act unless the business is a
small business operator or one of the other exemptions

Bodies corporate

A body corporate is any entity that has a legal personality
under Australian law or the law of another country. For
example in Australia this would include entities registered
as a company under the Corporations Law; incorporated associations;
and can include not for profit entities.


Any act done or practice engaged in by one of the partners
in a partnership is deemed to be an act or practice of
the organisation. Obligations under the Privacy Act are
imposed on each partner but may be discharged by any of
the partners.

Unincorporated associations

An unincorporated association would include a cooperative.
The Privacy Act also covers acts or practices engaged in
by an individual when undertaken in the capacity of a member
of the committee of management. Obligations under the Privacy
Act are imposed on each member of the committee of management
but may be discharged by any of the members of that committee.


For the purposes of the Privacy Act, an act done or practice
engaged in by a trustee is taken to have been done or engaged
in by the trust. The Privacy Act imposes obligations on
each trustee but they may be discharged by any of the trustees.

Exempt Entities

Exempt entities are:

  • Commonwealth government agencies including federal
    government departments, bodies and tribunals set up for
    a public purpose by federal government laws
  • state or territory public sector bodies including government
    departments, agencies, authorities, universities and
    local government. However, state or territory bodies
    that are incorporated companies, societies or associations
    are deemed to be organisations and subject to the legislation
    - these bodies may be prescribed out of the coverage
    of the Privacy Act
  • a registered political party which is defined as one
    that is registered under Part XI of the Commonwealth
    Electoral Act 1918. The acts and practices of political
    representatives are also not subject to the Privacy Act,
  • small business operators.

(PCO Information Sheet 1-2001)

Small business operators can voluntarily 'opt in' to the
scheme in the legislation (section 6EA).

Exempt Acts and Practices

Where an organisation is covered by the Act, certain acts
and practices of the organisation will be exempt (section
7B). Exempt acts and practices are:

  • non business acts and practices
  • acts and practices by an employer organisation which
    relate to a current or former employment relationship
    or employee records
  • if the organisation is a CSP for a Commonwealth contract
    (whether or not the organisation is a party to the contract),
    and the organisation would be a small business operator
    if it were not a CSP, any act done or practice engaged
    in otherwise than for the purpose of meeting an obligation
    under a Commonwealth contract, and
  • acts and practices of media organisations in the course
    of journalism (the phrase 'in the course of journalism'
    is not defined).

Small Business

Small business operators are exempt. Section 6D defines
a small business to be one that has an annual turnover
of $3m or less. However, entities are not small business
operators if they:

  • provide a health service to another individual and
    hold health information (except in an employee record)
  • disclose personal information about another individual
    to anyone else for a benefit, service or advantage
  • provide a benefit, service or advantage to collect
    personal information about another individual from anyone
  • are a CSP for a Commonwealth contract (even if they
    are not a party to the contract)
  • are prescribed by regulation not to be a small business
  • 'opt in' to the legislation.

A small business operator which is also a CSP will be
subject to the Privacy Act in respect of the performance
of that contract. That is, it cannot benefit from the small
business exemption for contractual matters (section 6D(4)(e)).

Contracted Service Provider

Contracted service provider is defined in section
6 of the Privacy Act in the following terms:

'Contracted service provider, for a government
contract, means:

(a) an organisation that is or was a party to the government
contract and that is or was responsible for the provision
of services to an agency or a state or territory authority
under the government contract; or

(b) a subcontractor for the government contract.'

The Privacy Act defines government contract as
a Commonwealth contract or a state contract. It defines Commonwealth
contract as a contract to which the Commonwealth or
an agency is or was a party, under which services are to
be, or were to be, provided to an agency (section 6).

Section 95B of the Privacy Act sets out the requirements
for Commonwealth contracts, including prohibiting a breach
of the IPPs by the CSP, or where this applies, by a subcontractor.

A subcontract is defined very widely to include
not only the initial subcontract but any further subcontract
as well (section 6). The requirement for inclusion of matters
in the Commonwealth contract applies whether the agency
is entering into the contract on behalf of the Commonwealth
or in its own right (section 95B(5)).

Obligations of Agencies for CSPs

The Privacy Act requires agencies to take contractual
measures to ensure that CSPs, including subcontractors,
do not breach the IPPs (section 95B). It is, generally
speaking, the IPPs and not the NPPs which apply to CSPs
although NPPs 7 to 10 will also apply. This is because
a CSP is an organisation under section 6 and the IPPs displace
only NPPs 1 to 6. NPPs 7 to 10 have no equivalent IPPs.
The CSP's privacy obligations are primarily derived from
the contract.

Although agencies are only required to include in privacy
clauses in their contracts obligations which are consistent
with the agency's own obligations under the Privacy Act,
it is a good practice to refer to the CSP's obligations
in respect of NPPs 7-10 and section 16F of the Act. There
is no equivalent of these NPPs and 16F in the IPPs. In
this way, the CSP has a complete picture of its privacy
obligations arising out of the activities which it carries
out under the contract.

In the situation where a CSP is not providing services
directly to the Commonwealth but to a third party, section
95B of the Privacy Act still applies as the definition
of a CSP covers not only the provision of services directly
to the agency concerned, but also the provision of services
to third parties on behalf of an agency where the provision
of those services is in connection with the performance
of the functions of the agency (section 6(a)). Where the
service to be provided under the contract is not connected
with the performance of the functions of the agency, then
the provisions of the legislation, including section 95B,
do not apply. This will be the situation where an agency
such as the Department of Health and Ageing enters into
a contract to provide Commonwealth funds under a funding
agreement to a body to provide services (for example, the
building of a health centre for members of the community).
If the provision of those services is not a function of
the agency, then the recipient of the funding would not
be a CSP for the purposes of the Privacy Act. This is not
to say that the agency may not as a matter of good practice
include clauses requiring the funding recipients to observe
the privacy principles.

State, Territory Authorities

The definition of organisations does not include
a state or territory authority (sections 6(1) and 6C(3)).
As state and territory authorities are not organisations,
they cannot be CSPs for the purposes of the Privacy Act.
This means that a state or territory authority providing
services under a contract with an agency is not covered
by the Privacy Act. Notwithstanding this exclusion, agencies
need to be mindful of the obligation under IPP 4(b) to
ensure that everything reasonable is done to prevent unauthorised
use or disclosure of personal information. For this reason,
particularly where that state or territory authority is
not subject to state or territory privacy legislation,
the agency should as a matter of good practice negotiate
the inclusion of privacy clauses having the same effect
as if the authority were an organisation under the Act.

Section 95B

The obligations under section 95B extend to a CSP who
is not within Australia. (Section 5B of the Privacy Act
gives extra territorial operation to the Act.) The Privacy
Commissioner has jurisdiction to investigate a complaint
made in relation to services or activities of overseas
CSPs (section 5B(4)). Although the effect of this is to
allow the Commissioner to take action overseas to investigate
complaints and to allow the ancillary provisions of Part
5 of the Act to operate (investigation and determination
by Privacy Commissioner), enforcement of the provisions
of the contract overseas may be difficult.

The obligation of CSPs under the contract to abide by
the IPPs, NPPs 7-10 and section 16F will continue to apply
in relation to relevant information after the contract
has come to an end. The Privacy Act allows the Privacy
Commissioner to investigate complaints about acts or practices
of a CSP under a Commonwealth contract after that contract
has expired. It is important that the CSP is aware of this
and that proper arrangements are made in the contract generally
for such things as ongoing storage of information. Where
a CSP no longer exists, then it is possible for the Privacy
Commissioner to substitute the agency for that CSP when
investigating a breach and in determining an award of damages
or compensation.

The section 95B obligation is prospective. Section 95B
came into effect on 21 December 2001 so the specific requirement
in that section for agencies to include privacy clauses
in contracts does not apply to contracts in existence before
21 December (that is, section 95B itself has no retrospective

However, Item 37 of the Amendment Act (which is an application
provision so will not be found in the consolidated Privacy
Act) says:

Under subsection 6A(2) or 6B(2) of the Privacy Act 1988
(as amended by this Schedule), a Commonwealth contract
may prevent an act or practice from being a breach of
an NPP or an approved privacy code (as appropriate) regardless
of whether the contract was made before or after the
commencement of that subsection.

Additionally, the definition of 'contracted service provider'
in section 6 of the Privacy Act would seem to include pre-21
December 2001 contracts.

There was no legislative requirement prior to 21 December
2001 to make CSPs subject to the Privacy Act and its IPPs.
Including privacy clauses in contracts before 21 December
2001 was based on the obligation in IPP 4(b) on an agency.

On that basis, agencies should have been complying with
this obligation (and the Privacy Commissioner's outsourcing
guidelines) by including privacy clauses in contracts entered
into before 21 December.

The Amendment Act (Item 53, an application provision)
provides that an act or practice of an organisation may
constitute an interference with the privacy of an individual
under section 13A(1)(c) of the Privacy Act whether the
contract was made before or after the commencement of section
13A. The effect of this is that although section 95B does
not expressly apply to contracts already in existence before
21 December 2001, a CSP under a Commonwealth contract which
included privacy obligations can nevertheless be held to
be in breach and directly accountable for such a breach.

Application of NPPs 7-10 and Section 16F

In addition to the eleven IPPs, a CSP is also subject
to four NPPs (NPP 7-10) which do not have any equivalent
in the IPPs. NPPs 7-10 are concerned with identifiers,
anonymity, transborder data flows and sensitive information. Sensitive
information is defined (section 6) as follows:

(a) information or an opinion about an individual's:

(i) racial or ethnic origin; or

(ii) political opinions; or

(iii) membership of a political association; or

(iv) religious beliefs or affiliations; or

(v) philosophical beliefs; or

(vi) membership of a professional or trade association;

(vii) membership of a trade union; or

(viii) sexual preferences or practices; or

(ix) criminal record;

that is also personal information; or

(b) health information about an individual.

NPP 10 prohibits the collection of sensitive information
except in certain circumstances.

There is also an obligation under section 16F in relation
to direct marketing. A CSP is subject to these NPPs and
section 16F even if it is not otherwise subject to the
NPPs because, for example, it does not come within the
definition of an 'organisation'.


An act done or practice engaged in by a CSP which is for
the purposes of meeting directly or indirectly an obligation
under the contract will not breach an NPP or an approved
privacy code. So in this sense, NPPs can be varied by the
contract and a breach of an NPP will not have occurred
if the contract obliges the CSP to do something which would
be inconsistent with the CSP's obligations under an NPP
to which the CSP is bound (section 6A(2)). A similar situation
will apply where an approved code is in force displacing
the NPPs (section 6B(2)).

The clauses in a Commonwealth contract dealing with privacy
will prevail even where they are inconsistent with any
of NPPs 7-10 or a code to which the CSP may be subject
(sections 6A(2) and 6B(2)). The section is set out in terms
of excepting from a breach an act or practice engaged in
by an organisation that is a CSP for the purposes of meeting
(directly or indirectly) an obligation under the contract.
To take advantage of this exception, there must be an obligation under
the contract for the CSP to do that act or carry out that
practice. It is not sufficient if the act or practice is
merely authorised or discretionary.

In addition, this exception from breach of the NPPs requires
that the act or the practice is authorised by a provision
of the contract which is inconsistent with the NPP or approved
privacy code. To ensure that both the agency and the CSP
are aware of the intended exceptions from the principles
or code, it would be useful to identify the particular
provisions of the contract which contain such obligations.

Similarly, if the CSP has obligations under the contract
which are inconsistent with section 16F (direct marketing),
this should also be identified. Where the contract does
not oblige the CSP to do direct marketing, the attention
of the CSP could be drawn to section 16F by a clause prohibiting
the CSP from using information collected under the contract
for direct marketing purposes.

An advantage in actually identifying the provisions of
the contract which are inconsistent with an NPP or code
is that the Privacy Act provides that where a person so
requests, a party to a Commonwealth contract must inform
the person in writing of the content of any provision in
the contract that is inconsistent with an approved code
binding a party to the contract or with an NPP (section

A common situation would be where a CSP is obliged under
a contract with a Commonwealth agency to provide the agency
with the names and addresses of the individuals to whom
it provides the service or to assign to each individual
customer, and report by, an agency identifier (for example,
a Centrelink Reference Number).

NPP 7 provides in essence, that a CSP must not adopt as
its own identifier of an individual, an identifier that
has been assigned by an agency. NPP 8 states that wherever
it is lawful and practicable, individuals must have the
opportunity of remaining anonymous. Where the obligations
under the contract are inconsistent with the obligations
under the NPPs then the contract obligations prevail.

NPP 9 is concerned with transborder dataflows and prohibits
an organisation from transferring personal information
about an individual to someone who is in a foreign country.
Some exceptions do apply. The CSP may be obliged to forward
information (for example, on communicable diseases) to
an international health organisation. That obligation would
be inconsistent with NPP 9. The contract obligation would
override or vary the NPP.

NPP 10 prohibits the collection of sensitive information
about an individual except in quite specific cases. There
will be circumstances where a CSP is obliged to collect
information which does not come within the exceptions in
NPP 10. In such circumstances, the inconsistency between
the obligation in the contract and NPP 10 would have the
effect that the CSP would not be in breach of the NPP.

Other NPPs

A CSP may be subject to all the NPPs (or an approved code)
in its own right because it falls within the definition
of an organisation. Telstra is in such a position (except
for its competitive commercial activities). The provisions
relating to CSPs do not have any effect in relation to
other non-CSP activities of an organisation.

Complaint Handling

All complaints in relation to the acts or practices of
CSPs are to be handled by the Privacy Commissioner who
has the power to investigate all complaints even where
the CSP is subject to an approved code that provides for
its own complaint handling procedure (section 40A).

The CSPs are liable for their own acts and practices.
To ensure that people are able to find out what privacy
standards apply, agencies and CSPs are required to release
on request details of privacy clauses in their contracts
(section 95C).

The outsourcing agency is to be given notice by the Privacy
Commissioner of any determination against a CSP (section

The complaint handling powers under Part 5 of the Privacy
Act apply also to complaints about CSPs. The Privacy Commissioner
has the same powers in relation to CSPs as the Privacy
Commissioner has in relation to agencies, including the
power to enter premises to obtain information and to take
evidence under oath. Where the Commissioner makes a formal
determination under section 52 of the Privacy Act, this
may include:

  • a declaration that the CSP should redress any loss
    or damage suffered by the complainant; and
  • a declaration that the complainant is entitled to a
    specific amount by way of compensation for any loss or
    damage suffered.

The Privacy Commissioner may proceed in the Federal Court
or the Federal Magistrates Court to enforce any determination.

In circumstances where an individual is unable to obtain
a remedy from a CSP (for example, the CSP dies, ceases
to exist or becomes bankrupt) the Commissioner can substitute
the agency for the CSP (section 50A). This ensures that
the agency remains ultimately responsible for the acts
and practices of its CSPs. Before making such a decision,
the Commissioner is required to give the agency the opportunity
to appear before the Privacy Commissioner and to make oral
or written submissions concerning the proposed substitution
(section 53B).


The following model clause is provided to assist Commonwealth
agencies in discharging their responsibilities under
section 95B of the Privacy Act. Agencies are reminded
that changes to these clauses may be necessary to reflect
particular situations. If any difficulties are experienced
with implementation of the clause please contact AGS.

X.1 This clause applies only where the Consultant deals
with personal information when, and for the purpose of,
providing [services] under this Contract.

X.2 The Consultant acknowledges that it is a 'contracted
service provider' within the meaning of section 6 of the
Privacy Act 1988 (the Privacy Act), and agrees in respect
of the provision of [services] under this Contract:

(a) to use or disclose personal information obtained
during the course of providing [services] under this
Contract, only for the purposes of this Contact;

(b) not to do any act or engage in any practice that
would breach an Information Privacy Principle (IPP) contained
in section 14 of the Privacy Act, which if done or engaged
in by an agency, would be a breach of that IPP;

(c) to carry out and discharge the obligations contained
in the IPPs as if it were an agency under that Act; 2

(d) to notify individuals whose personal information
the Consultant holds, that complaints about acts or practices
of the Consultant may be investigated by the Privacy
Commissioner who has power to award compensation against
the Consultant in appropriate circumstances;

(e) not to use or disclose personal information or engage
in an act or practice that would breach section 16F (direct
marketing), an NPP (particularly NPPs 7 to10) or an APC,
where that section, NPP or APC is applicable to the Consultant,

(i) in the case of section 16F - the use or disclosure
is necessary, directly or indirectly, to discharge
an obligation under [clause ?] of this Contract; or

(ii) in the case of an NPP or an APC - where the activity
or practice is engaged in for the purpose of discharging,
directly or indirectly, an obligation under [clause
?] of this Contract, and the activity or practice which
is authorised by [clause ?]of this Contract is inconsistent
with the NPP or APC; 3

(f) to disclose in writing to any person who asks, the
content of the provisions of this Contract (if any) that
are inconsistent with an NPP or an APC binding a party
to this Contract; 4

(g) to immediately notify the agency if the Consultant
becomes aware of a breach or possible breach of any of
the obligations contained in, or referred to in, this
clause X, whether by the Consultant or any subcontractor;

(h) to comply with any directions, guidelines, determinations
or recommendations referred to in, or relating to the
matters, set out in Schedule X, 5 to the extent
that they are not inconsistent with the requirements
of this clause; and

(i) to ensure that any employee of the Consultant who
is required to deal with personal information for the
purposes of this Contract is made aware of the obligations
of the Consultant set out in this clause X.

X.3 The Consultant agrees to ensure that any subcontract
entered into for the purpose of fulfilling its obligations
under this Contract contains provisions to ensure that
the subcontractor has the same awareness and obligations
as the Consultant has under this clause, including the
requirement in relation to subcontracts.

X.4 The Consultant agrees to indemnify the Commonwealth
in respect of any loss, liability or expense suffered or
incurred by the Commonwealth which arises directly or indirectly
from a breach of any of the obligations of the Consultant
under this clause X, or a subcontractor under the subcontract
provisions referred to in subclause X.3.

X.5 In this clause X, the terms 'agency', 'approved privacy
code' (APC), 'Information Privacy Principles' (IPPs), and
'National Privacy Principles' (NPPs) have the same meaning
as they have in section 6 of the Privacy Act, and 'personal
information', which also has the meaning it has in section
6 of the Privacy Act, means:

'information or an opinion (including information or an
opinion forming part of a database), whether true or not
and whether recorded in a material form or not, about an
individual whose identity is apparent, or can reasonably
be ascertained, from the information or opinion'.

X.6 The IPPs and the NPPs are set out in Attachment A
and B, respectively. [optional]

X.7 The provisions of this clause X survive termination
or expiration of this Contract.

Notes to Model Clause

1. See 'Guidelines for Commonwealth Contracts'
Information Sheet No. 14 issued by the Federal Privacy
Commissioner and available at

2. CSPs may have difficulty in complying with
IPPs 6 and 7 where access or amendment should not be allowed.
In such circumstances agencies should consider accepting
a transfer of the records and handling the matter under

3. Note that section 6A requires that the Consultant
be 'obliged' to carry out the activity. Where possible
the relevant clause numbers should be noted here.

4. Section 95C Privacy Act.

5. This Schedule should include any specific
matters, for example, agency and Privacy Commissioner's
guidelines which the agency wishes the CSP to comply with.

For general information please contact Madeline Campbell
of our Canberra office on telephone (02) 6253 7408, e-mail or
any of the following lawyers:


Anne Caine

(02) 6253 7428

Madeline Campbell

(02) 6253 7408


Jim Heard

(02) 9581 7477


Libby Haigh

(03) 9242 1499


Maurice Swan

(07) 3360 5702


Peter Macliver

(08) 9268 1100


Sarah Court

(08) 8205 4231


Jude Lee

(08) 8943 1405


Peter Bowen

(03) 6220 5474

ISSN 1448-4803 (Print)
ISSN 2204-6283 (Online)

For enquiries regarding supply of issues of the Briefing,
change of address details etc, tel: (02) 6253 7052 or fax:
(02) 6253 7313 or e-mail:

The material in this briefing is provided
for general information only and should not be relied
upon for the purpose of a particular matter. Please contact
AGS before any action or decision is taken on the basis
of any of the material in this briefing.

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