An individual’s right to privacy is a fundamental human right. This is recognised in a number of international instruments, in particular, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 17) and the OECD Guidelines on the Protection of Privacy and Transborder Flows of Personal Data.
Guidelines approved under Section 95A of the Privacy Act 1988 provide a framework to ensure privacy protection of health information that is collected, used or disclosed in the conduct of research and the compilation or analysis of statistics, relevant to public health or public safety, and in the conduct of health service management activities. The Guidelines form part of compliance requirements under the National Privacy Principles established in the amended Privacy Act 1988. Human research ethics committees are required to approve research or statistical activities that involve the collection, use or disclosure of identifying health information, and health service management activities that involve the collection of identifying health information. Approval by an HREC is only required in situations where the activity is to be conducted without consent from the individual concerned. Approval by the HREC may only be given where it is determined that the public interest in the proposed research, statistical or health service management activity substantially outweighs the public interest in the protection of privacy.