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Source: Privacy Commissioner

Police told the current girlfriend of a man that he had a history of violence, and that he had assaulted and threatened his ex-partner. The man complained to our office that his privacy had been breached, and the information disclosed by Police to his current girlfriend was wrong.

He said Police told his girlfriend that he had assaulted his previous partner and threatened to kill and rape her and her daughter. The man said he had only spat at his former partner and he disputed making the threats.

The man also said he was assaulted outside the local Police station and, when requested, Police had refused to give him video footage of the assault.

Privacy Act

The man’s complaint raised issues under principles 6 and 11 of the Privacy Act.

Principle 6 says that an individual has a right to request access to information that identifies them, unless one of the withholding grounds in sections 27 to 29 of the Act (sections 50 to 53 of the Privacy Act 2020) applies.

Principle 11 says that an agency cannot disclose information it holds about an individual, unless one of the exceptions apply.

Principle 6

Sometime after the alleged assault outside the Police station, the man said he was advised by a third party that Police had shown them a video recording of the attack. When he asked for copy of the video, the request was turned down.

To find an interference with privacy under principle 6, we would have to be satisfied that Police did not have a proper basis for refusing to provide the man with the video footage, or that Police had not responded with its decision within the relevant statutory timeframe.

When we contacted Police, they said they had no record of the man’s request. Besides, Police explained the station used an old CCTV surveillance system and it operated inside the station’s foyer. It did not show outside areas except for the building’s doorstep. In addition, all footage was recorded over in a matter of days and there was no existing footage from the date the man requested.

Principle 11

The man’s main concern was the Police sharing of information about his violent offending against his previous partner with his current partner.

Police told us there were concerns for the safety of his current partner because of the nature of their relationship, and the number of social agencies involved providing the couple with support.

Police provided us with information about multiple family harm incident callouts since the couple began living together. They concluded that disclosing information about the man to his partner was reasonable and necessary to allow her to have a better understanding of the relationship, the risks posed, and how to respond to prevent possible offending from occurring.

Police said the information it provided to the man’s partner was appropriately disclosed under the exceptions found in principles 11(e) and 11(f)(ii).

Principle 11(e) says that information can be disclosed if it is necessary to avoid prejudice to the maintenance of the law, including the prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution, and punishment of offences.

Principle 11(f)(ii) says that information can be disclosed if it is necessary to prevent or lessen a serious threat to the life or health of the individual concerned.

Our view

We decided Police did not breach principle 6 of the Privacy Act for two reasons. Firstly, there was no record a request had been made, and secondly, there was no video footage to handover to the man. Section 29 of the Privacy Act 1993 (Section 53 of the Privacy Act 2020) says an agency may refuse a principle 6 request if the information is not readily retrievable or if it does not exist and cannot be found.

We were also of the view Police did not breach principle 11. We reviewed the information Police provided about the man’s background, and we were satisfied the disclosure by Police was reasonable because they could rely on the exceptions 11(e) and 11(f)(ii) of the Act in this case.

We concluded that in these circumstances, Police had not interfered with the man’s privacy and closed the file.