Drew Sheldrick
Victoria’s privacy commissioner and health services commissioner are using Midsumma Festival as a chance to remind Victoria’s gay and lesbian community about their privacy rights in regards to sexual preference and sexual health.

Releasing a case study of a Victorian man whose same-sex partner was mistakenly     placed under surveillance, the commissioners hope to highlight the protections the community has in regards to unlawful interference in their private lives.

The case involved an organisation contracted to conduct an investigation into the man’s compensation claim at a government agency. They mistook him for his same-sex partner while conducting surveillance despite being provided with a physical description of the claimant.

Their report to the government agency included detailed information about the man’s movements and activities he engaged in with his two children over two days.

After becoming distressed that his information had been unlawfully collected, the man made a complaint with the organisation. When it was unable to be resolved between them, he took his case to the Victorian privacy commissioner.

The ensuing conciliation resulted in the organisation agreeing to pay him compensation for humiliation and distress. They also agreed to formally apologise, permanently destroy all information they held regarding him that was gained while conducting surveillance and review their guidelines for investigators.

The Information Privacy Act and the Health Records Act set out that state public sector organisations and the private sector may only collect information about your sexual preference and sexual health with your consent or where the collection is authorised or required by law.

In addition, the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities expressly grants you the right not to have your family and home life unlawfully or arbitrarily interfered with.

Privacy commissioner Helen Versey said the ability to control personal information is crucial to GLBTI people, who know that invasions of privacy can often lead to discrimination.

“Once collected, your personal and health information needs to be accurate, kept secure and managed properly,” Versey said.

Health services commissioner Beth Wilson also stressed that you have a right to see your health and other personal information and, if there is a problem, to make complaints about health service providers and public sector organisations.

For further information or to make a complaint about a health service provider, call the health services commissioner toll-free on 1800 136 066.

The privacy commissioner deals with the handling of all other types of personal information by state and local government. Call them on 1300 666 444. All their services are free and confidential.

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