Privacy Law what your school needs to know

21st December 2017

On 22 February 2018, Australia’s privacy laws changed. If your school is non-government and earns more than $3 million a year in revenue, then these changes apply to you. 

Prior to these changes, your school had an obligation to keep all personal information it holds (for example, records of students, parents, teachers and other individuals) safe and secure. But if there’s was a security breach in regards to this information, you’re were not required by law to tell anyone about it. 

That’s now changed. Amendments to the Privacy Act make it obligatory for you to notify certain breaches. Schools should seek their own legal advice, but here’s a few things you might want to know about the changes: 

What is a personal information security breach? 

Basically, it’s any unauthorised access or disclosure of the personal information your school holds. This also includes the loss of information that’s likely to lead to unauthorised access or disclosure. 

This could include anything from the loss of a laptop containing a student’s personal details or one of your databases holding anyone’s personal details being hacked. 

What has to be notified? 

The obligation to notify applies if your school has reasonable grounds to believe that: 

a) breach has occurred, and 

b) a reasonable person would conclude that the breach is likely to result in serious harm to the person that the information relates to. 

The legislation doesn’t define what is meant by ‘harm’, but it’s likely to cover financial, physical, psychological and reputational harm.

Who do you notify, and when? 

If a notifiable breach occurs at your school, you’ll need to respond as soon as possible. To do this: 

Firstly, you’ll need to develop a statement outlining what’s happened and your recommended response. 

You’ll then need to send a copy of this to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) and, if practical, send your statement to the people whose information has been breached. 

If it’s not practical to tell those affected, you’ll need to publish your statement on your website or take other reasonable steps to announce the breach publicly. 

Here’s the exception 

If you can quickly take action to remove the likelihood of serious harm once you’ve become aware of the breach, then you are not legally required to notify anyone – but you might still choose to. 

Any other obligations? 

If your school only has reasonable grounds to suspect (rather than believe) there’s been a breach, then you’re  required to conduct an assessment to find out more. 

If your school is impacted by these new laws, then it’s recommended that you develop a data breach response plan. 

A good place to start is the OAIC’s website.

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