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What are redactions?

A redaction is a way of censoring a document. It involves obscuring or removing information before it is published. We do this to protect a person’s privacy, or for other reasons including that the information is commercially sensitive, or for security reasons.

Examples of information that might be redacted includes surnames, signatures, and commercially sensitive information such as contracted amounts with a provider.

Why are redactions applied to personal information?

Redactions generally apply to personal information to protect a person’s privacy but can also apply to your own sensitive information or other information that could cause harm if released.

When are redactions applied to personal information?

Under the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth), Departmental staff must take reasonable steps to protect personal information. This includes information about an identified individual, or information which could make someone identifiable. This may include names, addresses, medical records, account details, photographs, opinions, and videos and recordings.

How are redactions applied?

Redactions are applied according to legislation and guidelines. These include the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act), the FOI guidelines issued by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC), the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth), and the Australian Privacy Principles Guidelines (APP Guidelines). Redactions may also apply to information requests made under administrative access or under the MRCA or DRCA.

Other redactions that may be applied

There are circumstances where information is exempt from release under Part IV of the FOI Act. This means that part or all of a document won’t be released rather than redacted, where words or sections are obscured.  Documents that fall in an absolute exemption category can include:

  • documents affecting national security, Defence or international relations (s 33)
  • Cabinet documents (s 34)
  • documents affecting enforcement of law and protection of public safety (s 37)
  • documents to which secrecy provisions of enactments apply (s 38)
  • documents subject to legal professional privilege (s 42)
  • documents containing material obtained in confidence (s 45)
  • Parliamentary Budget Office documents (s 45A)
  • documents disclosure of which would be contempt of Parliament or in contempt of court (s 46)
  • documents disclosing trade secrets or commercially valuable information (s 47)
  • electoral rolls and related documents (s 47A)

Information may also be conditionally exempt, that is requiring the decision maker to weigh up the public interest in releasing compared to harms that could arise from release.  Information that is conditionally exempt from release under the FOI Act includes documents that:

  • Would or could be reasonably expected to damage Commonwealth-State relations (s 47B)
  • Disclose deliberative processes (s 47C)
  • Unreasonably disclose personal information (s 47F)
  • Have a substantial adverse effect on certain operations of agencies (s 47E)
  • Disclose business information (s 47G)
  • Have a substantial adverse effect on the financial or property interests of the Commonwealth (s 47D)
  • Have a substantial adverse effect on Australia’s economy (s 47J)
  • OAIC URL link: Exemptions and conditional exemptions under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 - Home (oaic.gov.au)

Refer to our DVA Redactions Guidelines for more information on documents that fall under absolute or conditional exemptions. 

What happens when redactions are made?

We will provide a decision letter explaining:

  • why the redactions have been made and the legislation or guidelines that apply;
  • the first name and position of the Departmental staff member who made the redactions; and
  • the review or complaint mechanisms available to you if you disagree or unhappy with the redaction.

Reviews and complaints

If you are unhappy with the redactions, you can ask for a review by submitting feedback or requesting an internal review.

You do not have formal review rights if you made a request for information under administrative release. Instead, you can submit feedback for the matter to be investigated using the Department's online feedback form.

If you made a request for information under FOI, you can ask for an internal review of the redactions.

You can also apply for an Information Commissioner review through the OAIC.

Redaction guidelines and scenarios

For further redaction information and scenarios please refer to the guidelines

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