M and Law Firm [2011] AICmrCN 7 (22 December 2011): Privacy Commissioner determination and NPP 2

March 14, 2012 |

In M and Law Firm [2011] AICmrCN 7 the Privacy Commissioner considered the operation of NPP 2, where NPP 2.1 provides that an organisation must not use or disclose personal information about an individual for a purpose other than the primary purpose of collection with the relevant exception at NPP 2.1(a) which permits the use or disclosure of personal information for a secondary purpose where that purpose is related to the primary purpose of collection, and the individual would reasonably expect the disclosure.

FACTS

A law firm, acting on behalf of the complainant’s former utility service provider, commenced debt recovery action against the complainant. The complainant subsequently settled the debt and was advised by the utility service provider that debt recovery would cease.  Before providing that advice the law firm of the settlement the law firm sent correspondence to the complainant’s neighbour seeking information from the neighbour about the complainant’s whereabouts. The branding of the law firm, including on the letter to the neighbour, identified that its legal expertise included debt collection. The complainant complained that the law firm contacted the neighbour and revealed they had had an outstanding debt.

DECISION

The Commissioner found that the correspondence sent by the law firm amounted to a disclosure of the complainant’s personal information. The information disclosed was that the law firm wished to contact the complainant, not any specific information about the debt.

The Commissioner found that as the disclosure of the complainant’s information to a third party for the purpose of assisting with an investigation into the complainant’s whereabouts was related to the primary purpose of debt collection and that the individual would reasonably expect that an organisation would disclose its name, and the complainant’s name, to contact a third party in the circumstances, which included the organisation not being able to contact the complainant he was of the view that the personal information disclosed by the law firm was consistent with NPP 2.1(a).

The Commissioner referred the complainant to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commissioner to consider whether the debt collection practices were consistent with its debt collection guidelines.

 

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