Privacy Law and Policy Reporter
The applicant, aged 17, left his mother's home and applied for a Youth Home Allowance (YHA). He made it clear to the Department of Social Security (DSS) interviewing officer that he did not wish his mother to be contacted. At a later interview he was allowed to see his file briefly and noticed two notes of telephone conversations with his mother. He applied under the FOI Act for (1) access to those notes and (2) disclosure of any documents relating to any disciplinary action taken against any DSS officer as a result of the contact with his mother.
The Tribunal held that disclosure of the telephone notes was not exempt under s 38 (secrecy provisions) as they contained personal information about the applicant, but was exempt as constituting the unreasonable disclosure of personal information (s 41) about his mother because it would reveal her attitude to the family situation. Nevertheless, DSS was directed under s 22 to photocopy and edit the document so that any exempt material was removed.
The department tried to justify its failure to search for the second class of documents on the basis that (if any existed) they would be exempt documents. However, the Tribunal rejected this excuse, because the applicant was not seeking the disclosure of the identity of any officers, and in any event s 22 could be used to provide an edited copy. The DSS was ordered to search for the documents.
The DSS also attempted to rely on IPP 11 of the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) as (somehow) showing that the documents were exempt. Since IPP 11 allows any disclosure that is allowed under FOI Act s 41, it is difficult to see how such an argument could add anything to the FOI Act.