Privacy and MPs acting on behalf of constituents

The Information Privacy Act 2009 (Qld) (IP Act) requires Queensland Ministers, departments, local government and public authorities (agencies)1 to handle personal information in accordance with the privacy principles. Personal information is defined very broadly and it includes any information or opinion in any form, whether true or not, about a person who is or can be identified.

MPs acting for constituents

Members of Parliament (MPs) often receive requests for help in dealing with agencies from their constituents2. As part of helping their constituent, the MP will often contact the agency for more information or to assist in resolving an issue.

Can the agency discuss the situation with the MP?

If the agency talks to the MP about the constituent it will (in most cases) be disclosing personal information. Agencies are only allowed to disclose personal information as set out in the IP ACt's privacy principles. The privacy principles allow agencies to disclose personal information if the individual the information is about has agreed to the disclosure. This agreement may be:

  • express (the individual told the agency they could disclose information), or
  • implied (it is obvious that the individual agrees to the information being disclosed).

Agencies should exercise care when relying on implied agreement, however it is generally reasonable for an agency to do so when an MP contacts an agency in response to a request from the constituent..

In some circumstances a document, such as the one in Appendix A, signed by the constituent may expedite requests for information.

Identity of the constituent

An agency must be satisfied the constituent is who they claim to be before giving their personal information to the MP. The agency may rely on the MP's knowledge of the constituent or they may take independent steps to verify the identity of the constituent, for example by checking the personal information held in the agency's records against the information provided by the MP.

Where the constituent is unknown to the MP the agency will need to formally verify their identity before personal information is disclosed. While there is no obligation on MPs to verify a constituent's identity, electoral office staff may want to check the person's identity and use the document in Appendix A in order to minimise delays.

Limitation of the agreement

The constituent's agreement is limited to the issue they raise with their MP, which means agencies can only disclose personal information relevant to that particular issue.

If the constituent wrote to their MP, giving a copy of the correspondence to the agency will help the agency identify the scope of the implied agreement. If the constituent made verbal contact with the MP, the agency will rely on the MP to accurately communicate the issue to the agency and that communication will set the limits of the implied agreement.

Personal information of third parties

An agency must not disclose the personal information of third parties when it provides information to the MP. The authority to disclose extends only to the personal information of the constituent who has contacted the MP.

For example, a woman contacts her MP complaining that her brother has been refused a driver's licence. While the agency can give the MP general information about the issuing of drivers licences, it cannot disclose any of the brother's personal information to the MP unless it has the brother's agreement.

  • 1 In this Guideline references to an 'agency' also includes Ministers unless otherwise specified. [up]
  • 2 For the purpose of this Guideline references to 'constituent' means an individual. [up]

Current as at: February 15, 2015