Our reference: FOI 2016/3820
Mr James Smith
[FOI #1848 email]
Dear Mr Smith
Your request for information – FOI 2016/3820
I refer to your email of 18 April 2016 seeking access under Freedom of Information Act
(FOI Act) to:
‘Current social media policy of the department, which covers departmental use
and/or private use by employees in an individual capacity.’
‘Any current guidance material which is available for employees to make informed
decisions about their private social media use.’
On 21 April 2016, I released under administrative access a link to Comcare’s social media
policy on our website. In this email I asked if this information satisfied your request.
In an email dated 30 April 2016, received by FOI on 2 May 2016, you replied, asking FOI:
‘if any information exists which is relevant to personal use of social media by
I am authorised under section 23 of the FOI Act to make decisions on access requests and
this notice sets out the decision on your request.
Comcare conducted thorough searches of its systems and I am satisfied that the documents
relevant to your request have been identified.
Please find attached to the email by which this notice has been sent, the documents
relevant to your request. The documents are:
1. Technology Common Use Policy - version 1.1 dated 20 November 2013
2. News item for Comcare’s internal staff, ‘Privacy settings on social media’ dated 26
For completeness, I have released Comcare’s full Technology Common Use Policy rather
than just the social media section (15.2). Our searches did not identify any other documents
as being relevant to your request.
Summary of Decision
The decision is to release both these documents with redactions made to personal
information that may reasonably be used to identify other people. That information is
exempt from disclosure under section 47F of the FOI Act.
The legislative background and the reasons for applying the exemption are detailed in the
decision record at Attachment A to this notice.
Timeframe for processing your request
The statutory timeframe for processing an FOI request is 30 days from the date the valid
request is received by an agency. Comcare has taken 2 May 2016 (the date on which your
email was received by Comcare) in which you amended the scope of your request as the
new valid date. Therefore the due date for a decision on your request is 1 June 2016.
On this occasion, Comcare has not applied charges for processing your request.
Should you not be satisfied with this decision, there are avenues of review available to you.
Please refer to Attachment A for information concerning your review rights.
Should you wish to discuss any aspect of this notice, please feel welcome to contact me
preferably by email to [Comcare request email], or on telephone 1300 366 979.
Freedom of Information
A. Decision Record
B. Review Rights
C. Technology Common Use Policy v1.1
D. News item – Privacy settings on social media
INFORMATION ON WHICH THE FINDINGS ARE BASED
The information on which the findings of material questions of fact are based:
a) your request, received by Comcare on 2 May 2016
b) the information identified as being within the scope of the request
c) the Guidelines issued by the Australian Information Commissioner
d) discussions with internal staff, and
e) the FOI Act.
Section 15 – Requests for access
You have exercised your right under section 15 of the FOI Act to request access to
documents. Section 15 relevantly provides:
(1) A person who wishes to obtain access to a document of an agency or an official
document of a Minister may request access to the document.
Section 3 and Section 3A – Objects of the FOI Act
Sections 3 and 3A of the FOI Act concern the objects of the Act and state the reasons for
giving the Australian community access to information held by government.
I have had regard to these objects when making this decision. In summary, the objects of
the FOI Act are:
a) to give the Australian community access to information held by government
b) to promote Australia’s representative democracy by increasing public
participation in government processes
c) to promote Australia’s representative democracy by increasing scrutiny,
discussion, comment and review of government activities
d) to increase recognition that information held by government is to be managed
for public purposes and is a national resource
e) to ensure that powers and functions in the FOI Act are performed and exercised,
as far as possible, so as to facilitate and promote public access to information,
promptly and at the lowest reasonable cost.
Section 47F – documents affecting personal privacy
Section 47F conditionally exempts a document to the extent that its disclosure would involve
the unreasonable disclosure of personal information about any person (including a deceased
Personal information is defined in section 4 of the FOI Act and is the same as the definition in
the Privacy Act 1988
means information or an opinion about an identified
individual or an individual who is reasonably identifiable:
a) whether the information or opinion is true or not; and
b) whether the information or opinion is recorded in a material form or
The elements of ‘personal information’ are:
i. it relates to a natural person (not, for example, a company)
ii. it says something about the individual
iii. it may be in the form of an opinion, it may be true or untrue, and it may form part
of a database
iv. the individual’s identity is known or is reasonably ascertainable using the
information in the document.
The information includes third parties’ names and direct contact numbers. I am satisfied that
each of the documents over which an exemption under section 47F is claimed contains third
parties’ personal information.
If information is personal information, it will be conditionally exempt if disclosure would be
‘unreasonable’. In considering whether disclosure would be unreasonable, section 47F(2) of the
FOI Act requires that I take into account:
i. the extent to which the information is well known
ii. whether the person to whom the information relates is known to be (or to have
been) associated with the matters dealt with in the document
iii. the availability of the information from publicly available sources, and
iv. any other matter I consider relevant.
I am satisfied from the nature of the information that the information in question is neither
well-known nor publicly available. I have considered the circumstances in which the information
was recorded, and the reasonable expectation of confidentiality that would have been held by
the third parties who are the subjects of the information.
On the basis of the above considerations, I have concluded that disclosure of third parties’
personal information would be unreasonable.
The public interest
Conditionally exempt matter must be released unless, in the circumstances, access to that
document at this time would, on balance, be contrary to the public interest (section 11A(5) of
the FOI Act). As the Information Commissioner’s Guidelines state at paragraphs 6.8 – 6.9:
The term ‘public interest’ is necessarily broad and non-specific because what constitutes
the public interest depends on the particular facts of the matter and the context in
which it is being considered.
To conclude that, on balance, disclosure of a document would be contrary to the public
interest is to conclude that the benefit to the public resulting from disclosure is
outweighed by the benefit to the public of withholding the information. The decision-
maker must analyse, in each case, where on balance the public interest lies, based on
the particular facts of the matter at the time the decision is made.
I have considered the factors favouring access and factors that are irrelevant, in sub-sections
11B(3) and (4) of the FOI Act. In balancing the public interest in this case, I have considered
the following factors for and against disclosure:
Factors in favour of disclosure
promoting the objects of the FOI Act
facilitating access to information to members of the public
Factors against disclosure
could reasonably be expected to breach the personal privacy of individual third
protecting individuals from unreasonable interferences with their privacy
I acknowledge that there is a public interest in documents of Comcare being made
available to the public for the purpose of encouraging public debate and to promote
oversight of Comcare’s activities. I do not consider that disclosure of the personal
information of third parties would facilitate any of these objects.
In this case, I have formed the view that the disclosure of the personal information would make
a negligible contribution to those factors in favour of disclosure. There is no, or minimal, public
interest in this information being known. By contrast, the interference with an individual’s
privacy is, in my view, significant and I have concluded that disclosure would, on balance, be
contrary to the public interest.
Taking into account the above matters, I consider that disclosure of third parties’ personal
information is, on balance, contrary to the public interest. Accordingly, I have determined that
third parties’ personal information is exempt under section 47F of the FOI Act.
Freedom of Information Comcare
If you are dissatisfied with this decision, you have certain rights of review available to you.
Firstly, under section 54 of the FOI Act, you may apply for an internal review of the decision by
Comcare. Your application must be made by whichever date is the later between:
30 days of you receiving this notice; or
15 days of you receiving the documents to which you have been granted access
An internal review will be conducted by a person other than the original decision-maker. No
particular form is required to apply for review. An application for a review of the decision can be
addressed or emailed to:
Freedom of Information
GPO Box 9905
CANBERRA ACT 2601
Email: [Comcare request email]
If you choose to seek an internal review, you will still have a right to apply to the Office of the
Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) for a review of Comcare’s internal review decision.
Review by the Australian Information Commissioner
Alternatively, under section 54L of the FOI Act, you may seek review of this decision by the
Australian Information Commissioner (IC) without first going to internal review. Your application
must be made within 60 days of you receiving this notice.
The IC is an independent office holder who may review decisions of agencies and Ministers under
the FOI Act. More information is available on the OAIC website: www.oaic.gov.au.
You can contact the IC to request a review of a decision in writing or via email:
GPO Box 5218
Sydney NSW 2001
Email: [email address]
Complaints to the Commonwealth Ombudsman
You may complain to the Commonwealth Ombudsman about any action taken by Comcare in
relation to your request. The Ombudsman will consult with the OAIC before investigating a
complaint about the handling of an FOI request.
Your enquiries to the Ombudsman can be directed to:
Phone: 1300 362 072 (local call charge)
Email: [email address]
There is no particular form required to make a complaint to the Ombudsman. The request should
be in writing, set out the grounds for investigation and identify Comcare as the relevant agency.