Investigators and Privacy in Australia

Investigators and Privacy in Australia


Private investigators perform a whole range of assignments on behalf of their clients and, as with any other citizen in Australia, must do so within the boundaries of the law. The assignments range from investigating insurance fraud and tracing debtors, to finding missing relatives and helping people with family disputes. Very often these investigations will require the client to obtain information such as records of conversations, addresses, and other personal details but there are strict guidelines on how a private detective can go about doing this.

General Information Protection

Australia has strict laws to protect personal information. The Privacy Act controls the revelation of personal information unless specific exclusions apply. An organisation or a company cannot release personal information to a private investigator without a valid reason. The Act does specify the number of occasions when these exemptions apply, but even then the organisation can make a judgement on whether it feels the release of the information is appropriate for the situation. The end result is that an investigator has no right to demand information without a court order – it is up to the provider pf the information to make the assessment at that time.

There are times, however, when it is considered appropriate to release information. These would be occasions when disclosure falls within what is known as good information handling ideologies. The ideologies allow for the information to be given out if it is lawful and fair, and not incompatible with the reasons that the information was collected for originally. e.g. if someone had been left money in a will, but their last known address was in Sydney and they had relocated, it would be considered reasonable for an employer to pass on their new address details as it is undoubtedly in the interests of that person for them to do so.

Dealing With Invasion of Privacy Laws

The first way you can violate the invasion of privacy laws is not asking permission to use an individual’s likeness for profit. This shouldn’t be a common issue for private investigators unless they are using a person’s photo that was taken on the job for marketing or promotional purposes. This is called misappropriation, which is using an individual’s likeness or image without getting permission, and making a profit from such use.

Intrusion upon seclusion is another invasion of privacy law of which private investigators need to be aware. The law is defined as “one who intentionally intrudes, physically or otherwise, upon the solitude or seclusion of another or his private affairs or concerns, is subject to liability to the other for invasion of his privacy, if the intrusion would be highly offensive to a reasonable person.” One of the following four elements must be proven by the violated individual:

• There was an unauthorized intrusion or prying into his seclusion
• The intrusion was highly offensive to or objectionable to a reasonable person
• The matter intruded upon was private
• The intrusion caused anguish and suffering

Third, you may face a violation of invasion of privacy laws if you make medical records or similar private records public without the individual’s consent. As a private investigator, you will not often come across any records that are not public in nature.

Lastly, a false light claim allows an individual to sue for the public disclosure of information that is misleading, but not technically false. If someone was to make a false light claim, he or she must be able to provide the following elements:

• A publication was made by the defendant about the plaintiff
• The publication was made with reckless disregard for verity
• The publication places the plaintiff in a false light
• It would be highly offensive or embarrassing to a reasonable person

This false light claim is often made against journalists and publications, such as newspapers or magazines, but there are still some cases where this can apply to a private investigator.

It’s important to be cautious when performing an investigation and it’s imperative you ensure that you’re not violating any invasion of privacy laws.

Hire a professional Private Investigators in Canberra like us. To protect the privacy of our clients, we operate by appointment only and do not accept walk-in clients. If you require our service, do not hesitate to contact Territory Investigations today!



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