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Privacy Update: Australian Bushfires Disaster Emergency Declaration

On January 20 2020, for the first time Victoria was declared a state of disaster as a result of the bushfires which have ravaged the state since August 2019. 

The Attorney General has made an emergency declaration under Part VIA of the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) (Privacy Act) – Privacy (Australian Bushfires Disaster) Emergency Declaration (No. 1) 2020 (Declaration). This declaration will expire on 20 January 2021. 

“The Declaration will allow appropriate access to personal information about an individual impacted by the bushfires to help with a timely response to the bushfire emergency.” 

“It recognises the need to use personal information to provide support for people affected by these devastating bushfires, while protecting their right to privacy.”

  1. Australian Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner, Angelene Falk.

The Declaration provides for limited exceptions to the Australian Privacy Principles (APPs) in the Privacy Act. These permitted purposes include:

  1. identifying individuals who are or may be injured, missing or dead as a result of the bushfire emergency, or are otherwise involved in the emergency;

  2. assisting impacted individuals to obtain services such as medical treatment, health services, financial assistance or other humanitarian services;

  3. assisting law enforcement with the bushfire emergency;

  4. coordinating or managing the emergency; or 

  5. ensuring that a person who is responsible for an individual involved in the emergency is appropriately informed about the individual and the emergency response to the individual.

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner has produced further guidance around the operation of this Declaration, which you can access here.

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