Protection & Release of Information
Confidentiality of records / Privacy Act 1988 / Freedom of Information (1.3.3)
When any member of the public makes an enquiry, lodges an application or engages in any discussion with an official about an Australian travel document, that person is entitled to expect that all information they provide in statements and conversations will be used and protected in line with the Privacy Act 1988 and the Australian Passports Act 2005. All such information is held in-confidence and is not to be released to any other person or authority, except in accordance with circumstances consistent with the Privacy Act 1988, Australian Passports Act 2005 or the Freedom of Information Act 1982. The following paragraphs and instructions issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Canberra, must also be followed.
Unlawful release of information
Any release of information outside the legislative framework could be unlawful and lead to prosecution under the Crimes Act or to action under the Public Service Act 1999. Further, disclosure of personal information outside of the Department could also be contrary to Information Privacy Principle 11 contained in the Privacy Act 1988, Section 14.
Confidentiality an de-identifying of records
Schedule 3 of the National Privacy Principles of the Privacy Act 1988 states that personal information not relevant to the travel document application should be not be collected (blacked out) from the photocopy of Personal Identity Documents (PIDs) where necessary. Schedule 3 (1.1) states that ‘the organisation will not collect personal information unless the information is necessary for one or more of its functions or activities.’ Schedule 3 (4.2) states that ‘an organisation will also take reasonable steps to destroy or permanently de-identify personal information if it is no longer needed for any purpose for which the information may be used or disclosed.’
For more information on when personal information should be blacked out by the interviewing officer see Categories A, B and C documents
The Privacy Act 1988
The Privacy Act 1988 prohibits disclosure of any personal information to a third person, agency or body except in specified circumstances. Personal information may be disclosed if:
- The individual concerned is reasonably likely to have been aware, or made aware, that the information is usually passed to a person, body or agency;
- The individual concerned has consented to the disclosure;
- The record-keeper believes on reasonable grounds that the disclosure is necessary to prevent or lessen a serious and imminent threat to the life or health of any person;
- The disclosure is required or authorised by or under law; or
- The disclosure is reasonably necessary for the enforcement of criminal law or of a law imposing a financial penalty, or for the protection of public revenue.
Note: a very high threshold must be satisfied in order to meet the requirements of these exemptions.
Releasing information to the general public (handled within APO): guidelines
The Department receives a number of requests from members of the public seeking access to passport-related documents and information. It is important the public receives full and complete information about the Department’s access process, in particular when it is necessary to lodge a formal Freedom of Information (FOI) application (see ‘ Releasing information – complex requests requiring access under FOI ’).
Information about a travel document holder, or an application for a travel document, including advice on whether or not an application has been lodged, may only be released to or confirmed with
- the passport holder,
- the applicant or,
- in the case of a minor, the person or persons with parental responsibility who provided consent to the application for the issue of the travel document.
Note: requests for information from a non-lodging parent or carer should be considered on a case by case basis. Consent from the lodging parent or carer may be required before information is released, in particular where copies of application forms are sought and the consenting parents are living at different addresses.
The identity of the person requesting information must be verified before any information is released or confirmed.
Releasing information – simple requests
The following requests can be handled within the APO (without referral to DFAT’s FOI Section) subject to the APO being fully satisfied as to the identity of the inquirer, and provided there are no other complicating circumstances. Requests can be made either by phone, in person, or in writing. In some cases, the applicant may be required to verify their identity in person at a passport office before any information is released or confirmed.
The following details may be released to the passport holder, applicant or in the case of a minor, the person/s with parental responsibility that provided consent and who are living at the same address:
- Status of the applicant’s travel document application and / or reason the application is on hold (except where the reason is fraud or security related).
- Date and/or method of dispatch of the travel document.
- Where a person requests his/her own current or former passport number.
- Where a person seeks written confirmation from the Department that he/she held a particular passport at a particular time, APO can provide an appropriate letter.
- Where a person requests a copy of his/her own adult passport application.
- Where a person requests a copy of his/her PICS personal or document record showing the basic identity and travel document details relating to the individual e.g. ‘Full Person Details’ screen.
- A request for access to an application relating to a minor, but ONLY where both parents have provided consent to the issue of the passport on the application form, AND the consenting parents live at the same address.
- If the consenting parent/carer is not living at the same address, they may need to make a formal FOI application. The request should be discussed with the Director, Passport Operations Section (POS) as consent from the lodging parent or carer may be required before any information is released.
Where information is released under the above policy, a record needs to be maintained only when copies of documents/dossiers have been handed over. Copies of all documents handed over and associated correspondence is to be filed appropriately. It is not necessary to record the release of information about the status, date and/or method of dispatch of a travel document, or confirmation the person held a passport at a particular time if this information is given orally.
A person cannot be given any information about:
- their spouse or partner’s (including partner of a registered relationship or de facto relationship) application or travel document unless one of the exceptions within the Privacy Act 1988 applies;
- any other family member, friend, business associate etc.
- their son/daughter’s application or travel document if the son/daughter is no longer a child;
- about a child if the requesting person has not given consent on the application form for the issue of the passport.
Note: In some cases requests may be made by a non-lodging parent/carer for information contained in an application for a travel document for a minor. Any such requests should be considered on a case by case basis. Consent from the lodging parent/carer may be required before information is released, in particular if the non-lodging parent is living at a difference address.
In the above cases, the spouse, partner (including partner of a registered relationship or a de facto relationship), son or daughter must make their own enquiries. In cases where information cannot be released under the guidelines stated above, a person should be referred to the Department’s FOI process.
Australia Post staff who are authorised to conduct passport business may seek from APIS and be given information about:
- an application that was lodged at that particular Post Office; or
- an applicant, who is currently with the Australia Post employee at the time of the call (in which case it should often be possible for the form number to be provided).
The only information that can be released in these circumstances is:
- status of the applicant’s travel document application and / or reason the application is on hold (except where the reason is fraud or security related);
- date and/or method of dispatch of the travel document;
- his/her own current or former passport number.
All other inquiries are to be referred to the state Passport Office Managers.
DFAT staff in the APO, Domestic Law Branch and Consular Branches (including passports and/or consular staff at overseas missions), who have a need to know in the course of official business, may be provided with any information concerning an application on request. Enquiries from other DFAT staff/areas should be referred to a state Passport Office Manager or the Director, POS, as appropriate.
Requests received from a Federal or State police force for the provision of information should be referred to the Central Passport Fraud Section (see also ‘ Requests by law enforcement agencies and other government authorities ’).
Releasing information – complex requests requiring access under FOI
Requests from the general public not covered under the guidelines above should be handled as formal requests under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 1982. Members of the public who contact the APO, overseas missions, or APIS or a Passport Office about how to make an FOI request should be referred to the DFAT website www.dfat.gov.au/historical/foi.html which has a link that provides advice on how to make FOI applications to the Department. The website notes that FOI inquiries can be made to the FOI Section email address FOI@dfat.gov.au.
Examples that need to be handled as formal FOI requests would include:
- Requests from a parent or any other person for passport-related information concerning children where that person did not provide consent on the original application form, or does not have parental responsibility for that child.
- Requests from a person who is not the passport applicant.
- Requests from a person whose passport has been cancelled, or where the Minister has refused to issue a passport.
- Requests concerning an application or record that has a fraud alert or where there are any suspicions concerning the inquirer’s identity or that the information may be used for fraudulent or illegal purposes.
- Requests that would disclose third person information that would not normally be known to the inquirer.
Requests by law enforcement agencies and other government authorities
[Pursuant to the Privacy Act 1988 (Information Privacy Principle 11.1(d) and (e))]
Personal information held by the Department may be disclosed to Australian law enforcement agencies and other Australian government agencies where such disclosure is in compliance with the Privacy Act 1988. The relevant provisions are, Information Privacy Principle (IPP) 11.1(d), which applies where disclosure of personal information is required or authorised by or under law, and IPP 11.1(e), which applies where disclosure of personal information is reasonably necessary for the enforcement of the criminal law, or of a law imposing a pecuniary penalty, or for the protection of public revenue.
The following guidelines are to be used to respond to specific requests for passport-related information made by Australian Federal or State Law Enforcement Agencies, and Federal, or State/Territory government departments that are authorised under Federal or State/Territory legislation to request or receive such information.
Law enforcement organisations of foreign countries which request the release of passport information from an overseas post should be advised to pass the request to the Australian Federal Police through Interpol or to approach the Attorney-General’s Department and request release of the information under the provisions of the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act 1987.
Interpol is not an Australian law enforcement agency and direct disclosure of personal information is not permitted under the Privacy Act 1988 or the Australian Passports Act 2005, (refer to the Australian Passports Determination 2005, Section 46 and regulation 7.5). Disclosure of information to Interpol under the Australian Passports Act 2005 is limited to lost, stolen or suspicious passports only (section 45 refers).
All requests for passport information, such as passport dossiers and/or photographs, for domestic law enforcement purposes must be made on the Request for Passport Information Form using the letterhead/logo of the organisation making the request. A copy of the form is at Annex 5.
All written requests must be directed to Passport Fraud Section (PFS), Canberra, by email (email@example.com) or fax (02) 6112 1071. Telephone enquiries about release of passport information for domestic law enforcement purposes should be referred to PFS Canberra on (02) 6261 1041.
Requests must include sufficient identification of the person/organisation submitting the request, the subject of the request (i.e. passport applicant/holder), the reasons for the request and the basis under the Privacy Act 1988 by which the information can be disclosed.
In extremely urgent cases, information may be released in response to a verbal request. All such cases must be referred to PFS Canberra via the Fraud Unit in each State office. PFS Canberra will release the information if it is satisfied that urgent release is required. PFS Canberra will ensure that the requesting organisation subsequently completes and lodges a Request for Passport Information Form (Annex 5).
Information provided in hard copy must be collected personally and signed for by a nominated employee from the requesting organisation.
Staff of requesting organisations must not be given access to APO databases, processing or storage areas. Any requests for such access should be referred to the Director, PFS, Canberra.
PFS Canberra will maintain records of information released in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Privacy Act 1988.
Requests to disclose personal information as required or authorised under Australian legislation (e.g. under section 264 of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 the Australian Tax Office can request personal information from the Department) should be referred to central PFS Canberra: Tel: (02) 6261 1041, Fax: (02) 6112 1071, email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Consular Passports and Protocol Law (CPL) Section is the departmental contact point on court attendance subpoenas and other orders for production of passport-related documents and will consult with the central APO contact, Passport Policy and Operations Section (POS) and the Competent Authority and Approved Senior Officer Unit (CAU), Canberra as required.
A subpoena or other order for production of documents should be accompanied by ‘conduct money’ (usually in the vicinity of $20-50) paid in cash or by cheque made payable to the department/mission. All subpoena requests and other orders for production of documents must be recorded in the Passport Office subpoena register maintained by the Accountant.
APO information requests made to other agencies including foreign government agencies
Where required to confirm the identity or other entitlement of an applicant, an Authorised Officer may request a person or organisation to provide or confirm that information. The Authorised Officer should advise the person or organisation that this request is authorised by the Australian Passports Act 2005, Subsections 42(1) and (3) and therefore the information may be lawfully disclosed by the person or organisation without contravening the Privacy Act 1988 or State/Territory privacy legislation.
This provision covers any type of supporting document which is not listed on the application form, e.g. a school report.
The disclosure of information to foreign governments is a serious matter. When seeking information from foreign government agencies, care needs to be taken in any disclosure of personal information. Any disclosures must be limited to those reasonably necessary in the circumstances and authorised in accordance with an exception in Information Privacy Principle 11, contained in section 14 of the Privacy Act.
Requests for access to passport policy/information and brochures
Under reforms to the Freedom of Information Act 1982, the Information Publication Scheme, requires the Department to publish information about its operations and powers affecting members of the public, as well as manuals and other documents used in making decisions and recommendations affecting the public unless the document fits within an exemption definition where the disclosure of information would adversely affect the operations.
The Department publishes the following passport related documents online via the website www.passports.gov.au for public viewing with exempted text removed:
- Online Policy Information (OPI): Passport policy information and instruction.
- Passport Interviewing Procedures (PIP) – Australian passport interview procedures for use by Interviewing Officers
- Passport Brochures: available at passport offices and the Australian Passport Office website www.passports.gov.au.
Requests to access information contained in the documents/brochures referred to above may be handled within the APO in the following manner if the client cannot access the website:
- Passport offices are to enable members of the public to view, on request, relevant policy sections in OPI and PIP either on a monitor or in printed copy form ensuring that all exempt text is removed from sight or is printed from the public accessible online version.
- Where the number of copies requested is 50 or less the client is not to be charged a fee for this service. However, where requests exceed this limit the client is to be charged a fee of 10 cents a page (for the total number of pages supplied) and the money credited to Administered Funds.
Requests for documents recording travel to or from Australia
Travel records documenting when a person has travelled to or from Australia are maintained by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC). Travellers may apply to that Department for copies of the ‘movement records’ relating to themselves through DIAC’s FOI process. An FOI application form is available from DIAC’s website (http://www.immi.gov.au/allforms).