Privacy Act? Extreme Irritation Act, more like it…

Right at the start of this blog I had a whinge about privacy laws. I’m going to have another one now. What’s the point of having a blog if you can’t have a vent on it?

Our energy accounts are both with the same company, and both in my husband’s name. I accidentally paid the money for the electricity account into the gas account (same company, slightly different BPAY number). Anyway, I got one of those scary red letters today telling us that our electricity was about to be cut off, and I freaked out. So I called the energy company, and of course, they wouldn’t speak to me because of the Privacy Act. They wouldn’t help me or tell me what had happened to the money, although the girl said at the end of the conversation after a pause, “I can’t tell you any details about your account, but I can say that often people mix up the gas and electricity if they have an account for both.” Immediately I realised what I’d done, but there was absolutely nothing to do about it. I had to call my husband at work, tell him the details and get him to call.

Just seems like another irritation that makes life more frustrating. Grr. I’ve had a frustrating couple of days. Hopefully it will all get better tomorrow (don’t know what’s different about tomorrow, but there’s always hope).

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7 Comments

Filed under privacy, society

7 responses to “Privacy Act? Extreme Irritation Act, more like it…

  1. Horatio

    Victorias privacy laws are a joke. Last year I think we spent 2.5m on the privacy commissioner, for the grand total of about 54 complaints. It would be easier to shut the commission and buy every one who complains a free BMW.

    The laws are useless anyway. They have the usual ‘consent’ loophole, where any bank or other organization you have to deal with can just get your consent for a whole range of things – like sending you unwanted mail or phonecalls.

    ‘Privacy’ laws sound wonderful in theory but are just misconceived nonsense
    They used by lazy beaurecrats as an excuse to do nothing, and cause great harm when for example parents can’t find mentally ill children because of ‘privacy’ concerns.

  2. HVB

    As a lawyer, what I hate most about privacy laws is the fact that the ONLY people I have ever ever ever seen try and use (abuse) those laws are complete and utter nutbags, every last one of them – conspiracy theories coming out of their proverbials. The amount of time and money that is wasted on that kind of BS is frankly frightening.

  3. Hear hear, Horatio and HVB, couldn’t agree more!

  4. Cherry Ripe

    OK I need to clarify some things here.

    First, privacy laws that affect private companies are not Victoria’s – the Victorian Act only covers government agencies. You’re talking about Commonwealth laws.

    Here’s an extract from the website http://www.privacy.vic.gov.au:

    “Personal information collected and handled by federal public sector organisations and by a significant part of the private sector is subject to the Commonwealth Privacy Act 1988. Enquiries about those entities should be directed to the Office of the Federal Privacy Commissioner (external link). ”

    Second, the Victorian Privacy Commissioner does much more than receive complaints. S/he also has the mandate to educate the public about privacy and to conduct privacy audits of entire departments and agencies. You can check it out here: http://www.privacy.vic.gov.au

    Third, privacy is all about good manners, not about restricting information flow. It’s simply about checking with the owner of information before passing it on. This necessarily slows down the process, but shouldn’t stop it altogether. Unfortunately it applies between husbands and wives – often more strictly because there can be a family break-up involved. A mistake in this area can cause – and has on many occasions – caused massive amounts of grief, adverse publicity, and occasionally physical and emotional vulnerability in the case of abusive relationships. I know what I’d prefer.

    I reckon you guys would be a lot more pissed off if your personal information was shared without your consent. I experienced this recently when I signed up for private health insurance. I hadn’t heard anything for weeks, when my father rang to tell me he’d received my documents. Apparently 10 years ago I was covered under my family’s policy, and the organisation found Dad’s new details and assumed that that was my address. Bizarre, as since that time my father took off and my family as I knew it disintegrated, and I am now over 30 with my own family. You would think they’d have the sense to send it all to the address that I nominated!

    Needless to say, I was furious. Threatened a complaint to the Privacy Commissioner. Still haven’t received an apology, but the woman on the phone copped an ear-bashing that I’m sure went somewhere up the chain.

  5. Hi everyone,

    Cherry Ripe, I’m glad you pointed out the difference between the Victorian and Federal privacy schemes and some of the benefits of privacy laws. But sad to say, I wouldn’t count on your complaint going anywhere! My organisation’s experience is that privacy laws may be good in theory, but if something goes wrong what’s the point of the laws if nothing is done about it? Legal Eagle, I also agree that many businesses and government agenices often use “privacy law” as an excuse not to do things they don’t want to.

    We put out a media release recently complaining about how long the Federal Privacy Commissioner takes to deal with credit reporting complaints – http://www.consumeraction.org.au . We also talked a lot about this in a recent submission to the Australian Law Reform Commission’s current inquiry into privacy laws including credit reporting (also on our website), which you should all think of writing to if you’re interested in the issue of reform.

    The problem is that the Privacy Commissioner is the regulator and complaints handler on this issue, but it takes an enormous amount of time to deal with complaints, makes it hard for people to complain (especially about credit reporting problems) and the outcomes are pretty weak in any case, with no enforcement action ever taken by the Commissioner againt a company in breach of the laws.

    Sorry to rant, but I happened to be working on this very issue again today, and when I decided to have a peak at my favourite blog page as a short break, there was yet more on privacy for me to get angry about!

  6. Good to hear the views of someone who works in the area, Nicole! I will have to write a submission to the Australian Law Reform Commission. Making sure that I distinguish between the Victorian and the Commonwealth Acts would be a good start I suppose… 😉

    You’ve covered my point exactly – what is the point of all this bureaucracy if the Privacy Commissioner will take ages to resolve any problems and probably nothing will happen in the end anyway? That’s just a big waste of time and irritation for EVERYONE.

  7. Horatio

    Ok, Cherry Ripe, the Victorian Privacy Commissioner does do audits I concede, but it also spends a lot of public money on pointless ‘Privacy Awards’ and ‘Privacy Awareness Campaigns’.
    You’ve also touched on one of the most important loopholes in the privacy laws, one which makes the whole system a bit of a joke – ‘consent’.
    My point is that virtually every bank, large organization etc, signs you up to
    ‘consent’ to widespread dissemination of your information. The Privacy Commissioner and/or laws will do nothing to stop this, because you have ‘consented’, and will dismiss any complaints usually.

    I agree with HVB, Privacy laws are basically generally used by nutters or with people with something to hide. My friend works in fraud prevention at Telstra, and he says the only only people who ever raise concerns about Privacy are people who have been caught red handed in frauds: and who of course have kind of affected other people’s privacy by stealing their identities.

    And finally, Privacy laws have been a boon for unhelpful beaurecrats, who are too lazy to do their jobs. The example about 3 years ago, where Dept of Health workers refused to tell parents where their mentally ill children were living is a classic (disgraceful) case in point.

    Scrap Privacy laws, they are a rubbishy waste of time. If you must, perhaps have a ‘fuzzy’ commonsense Privacy law in its place.

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