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We have been notified of information involving the personal details of individuals held in open access files in our archives. Since then questions have been raised about additional open access files that should be restricted. This kind of information would be restricted under today’s approach to privacy.

Personal information often forms part of the public record, which we hold. When we were made aware of this situation, together with the agency on whose behalf we hold this information, we took immediate steps to suspend the open-access of these files to ensure they were no longer publicly available while the agency reassess the access.

Our role is to manage public archives under the Public Records Act 2005 (PRA). Under the PRA, agencies are responsible for assigning the level of access to their records at the time of transfer, in consultation with the Chief Archivist. Typically, this will be set to ‘Open’ or Restricted.’ Open access means that anyone can access the records, while restricted access normally requires obtaining permission from the controlling agency first. We implement the access requests assigned. At the same time, we provide guidance on how to determine access levels and our staff advise agencies on how to determine access to their records consistent with that guidance.

There is an inherent tension in balancing open access to the public record, with the privacy and security of individuals. Current guidance to agencies is that information of this nature should carry a restriction to protect personal privacy. In this case, the identified records were transferred prior to the enactment of the Privacy Act 1993 and the PRA, in a time when the legislation and standards were different to what they are now.

Because this relates to children formerly in state care, we have advised the eight government agencies involved with the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Historical Abuse in State Care and in the Care of Faith-based Institutions that this has happened. Other agencies have also responded to this issue. We have reminded agencies of our guidance and are assisting the information management staff in each agency to determine whether any of their open-access records relevant to the Royal Commission require reassessment.  

Due to the steps we have taken to restrict access to files while agencies review them, researchers may find that some files are restricted while we work to ensure this is resolved. Individuals who have an interest in viewing such records can still apply through the relevant agency. Read more about the work of Archives, the historical information we hold in the public record and how it is classified, elsewhere on our website and in our Questions and Answers below.

If you believe an open-access record you have viewed is not appropriately classified, please contact our Information Management Advice team.

If your agency has questions about our processes and practice, please contact our Information Management Advice team.

If you have a media inquiry or would like comment, please contact the DIA media desk.