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Privacy Law and Policy Reporter

Privacy Law and Policy Reporter (PLPR)
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Greenleaf, Graham --- "Complaint: Disclosure of debt to complainant's wide" [1994] PrivLawPRpr 19; (1994) 1(2) Privacy Law & Policy Reporter 31

Complaint: Disclosure of debt to complainant's wife

Australian Privacy Commissioner (Annual Report 1992-1993)

Disclosure of credit information - Privacy Act 1988 (Cth), s18N

''The respondent telephoned the complainant's wife at work in relation to the complainant's overdue loan payment contrary to s18N of the Privacy Act. The complainant and his wife were both embarrassed by the disclosure. The lengthy telephone call had serious and financial repercussions for both the complainant and his wife.

Complainant was paid $2,500 in compensation and received an apology. No compensation could be paid to the complainant's wife as the losses suffered by her did not fall within the jurisdiction of the Act. The respondent has initiated significant procedural changes to staff training.' (Fifth Annual Report on the Operation of the Privacy Act, p 93) Comment

The only published details of this significant complaint are as quoted above.s18N provides that ''a credit provider that is ... in possession ... of a report must not disclose the report or any personal information derived from the report to another person for any purpose unless ...' [a list of exceptions follows]. The disclosure to the spouse in this case did not fall within an exception. ''Report' in s18N does not only include reports from credit reporting agencies, but also includes ''any other record or information ... that has any bearing on an individual's .... credit history...' [except where the credit provider is not a corporation]. What type of ''report' was involved here therefore remains uncertain. The principal significance of s18N is that it includes within its scope such matters which may derive only from the records of a credit provider, whereas most of the rest of the Act deals only with ''credit reports' originating from credit reporting agencies.

The complaint did not result in a determination by the Commissioner unders52, so he must have discontinued his investigation on the basis that the respondent ''has dealt ... adequately with the complaint' (s41(2)(a)). We must assume that the Commissioner was of the view that the respondents had not 'knowingly or recklessly' contravened s18N (an offence punishable unders18N(2)), as he would then have been required to discontinue the investigations49) and refer the matter to the appropriate authorities

Graham Greenleaf


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