Privacy Commissioner John Edwards says there are lessons to be learned after a settlement was reached between writer and journalist Nicky Hager and Westpac over the bank’s disclosure of Mr Hager’s financial information to Police in 2014.
Mr Edwards says the matter shows there is a need for clear process when commercial organisations deal with Police requests for customer information.
The Police had sought Mr Hager’s bank information from Westpac without seeking a production order or search warrant from a court. The bank then provided several months of his transaction information. Westpac has since acknowledged it was wrong to give that information to Police without seeking further explanation.
“The Privacy Act allows companies to disclose some information to Police and other law enforcement agencies where ‘necessary to avoid a prejudice to the maintenance of the law’. But that is not a carte blanche for disclosing intimate details of location, income, consumption over an extended period,” says Mr Edwards.
Mr Edwards says his office had investigated the complaint and found that Westpac breached Mr Hager’s privacy.
“Banks should tell their customers how many requests they receive from Police and other law enforcement agencies for personal information, and how many of these are complied with. This is done in several countries overseas and it provides a level of transparency about how often customer information is disclosed to law enforcement,” he says.
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