As both business and government entities scramble to develop solutions and initiatives designed to address the ongoing risks related to the COVID-19 pandemic, they could be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed by the plethora of information and sometimes overlapping requirements issued by health and other regulators.

The prospect of vaccine passports, the implementation of various check-ins and QR codes, the revelation of requests made for law enforcement access to location data collected for COVID-related purposes, and the murky legal issues emerging around recording and sharing of employees’, contractors’ and consultants’ vaccine status all make the release of authoritative guidance welcome and timely.

On 2 September 2021, to assist both government and business, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) and state and territory privacy commissioners and ombudsmen[1] jointly issued universal privacy principles to support a nationally consistent approach to COVID-related solutions and initiatives under development.

These National COVID-19 Privacy Principles (the National Principles) fall under the following five headings:

  • Data minimisation
  • Purpose limitation
  • Security
  • Retention/deletion
  • Regulation under privacy law.

These National Principles are intended to guide a best practice approach to the handling of personal information during the pandemic, and help to maintain public trust. The OAIC, commissioners and ombudsmen have urged all those who are developing laws or rules or technological solutions involving personal-information handling to have regard to these principles to ensure that their solutions and initiatives build in a privacy-by-design approach. Small businesses not covered by the Commonwealth Privacy Act 1988 are advised that they can opt in under s 6EA and choose to follow privacy best practices to foster greater client trust in their offering.

It will be interesting to see how soon or indeed whether the various regulators take the next step to align in introducing specific guidelines on key issues such as sharing of vaccination status.

A preliminary review of your circumstances or project in light of the principles is recommended, to help you identify and weigh the various risks that apply.

[1] Representing the Commonwealth, New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory.

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This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice.  It should not be used as a substitute for legal advice relating to your particular circumstances.  Please also note that the law may have changed since the date of this article.