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Privacy Act & codes

Although a person's right to access information about himself or herself is very strong, agencies can refuse requests in certain circumstances. These circumstances are:

  • when another statute says that the agency does not have to provide access to information; or
  • when one of the reasons in sections 27-29 of the Privacy Act applies.

These are the only circumstances in which an agency can refuse an access request.

Does the agency have to say why it's refusing a request?
Yes. It needs to give the reasons why it's refusing the request, unless giving reasons would in itself damage the other interests protected under the Act (sections 27, 28 and 29).

What happens if I think the agency was wrong to refuse my request?
Complain to the agency first. The agency should have a privacy officer who may be able to review the information and double-check that there's a good reason for refusing your request.

If you're still not satisfied, you can make a complaint to the Privacy Commissioner. The Commissioner's staff will review the information and see whether the agency had a good reason to refuse your request.

Can an agency give access to some information, but withhold other information?
Yes. It's common for a document (even a single page) to contain some information that can be provided to the requester and some information that needs to be withheld. The agency is allowed to delete the bits of information that it wishes to withhold before providing a copy to the requester. It must be open about the fact that it's made deletions or amendments, though, and must tell the requester why these deletions or amendments were necessary.

An alternative to providing a copy of a document with a lot of deletions (or, in some cases, with most of the document blanked out) is for the agency to provide a summary of the information about the requester.

For instance, a document may contain mostly information about other people. The requester isn't entitled to access that information. There may only be small sections that are information about the requester, which the requester has got the right to access. Rather than photocopying large amounts of blank paper, with only the occasional sentence showing, it's far more convenient for everyone if the agency pulls together the information about the requester in summary form.


References

Privacy Act 1993
Section 44
Reason for refusal to be given
Where an information privacy request made by an individual is refused, the agency shall, -

(a) Subject to section 32 of this Act, give to the individual -
(i) The reason for its refusal; and
(ii) If the individual so requests, the grounds in support of that reason, unless the giving of those grounds would itself prejudice the interests protected by section 27 or section 28 or section 29 of this Act and (in the case of the interests protected by section 28 of this Act) there is no countervailing public interest; and

(b) Give to the individual information concerning the individual's right, by way of complaint under section 67 of this Act to the Commissioner, to seek an investigation and review of the refusal.

Compare: 1982 No 156 s 19; 1987 No 8 s 4(2); 1987 No 174 s 18