Policy Corporate Governance Personal Information Data Breach Procedure

Personal Information Data Breach Procedure

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The University is committed to protecting personal privacy and recognises that staff and students have a reasonable expectation that the University will protect and appropriately manage the personal information it holds about them.

This Procedure outlines the actions to be undertaken on a data breach and, where considered an eligible data breach under the National Data Breach Scheme, notify individuals and the Australian Information Commissioner of the breach.


This procedure governs suspected data breaches and applies to all University staff, affiliates, students, contractors and any other third party who collects or manages personal information on behalf of the University.


Except as otherwise specified in this procedure, the meaning of terms used in this policy are as per the Policy Glossary and the governing Information Privacy Policy.

Eligible data Breach

The Privacy Amendment (Notifiable Data Breaches) Act 2017 (Cth), also referred to as the Notifiable Data Breaches (NDB) Scheme amends the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) (the Commonwealth Privacy Act), and in the instances where the NDB Scheme applies to JCU, there is a mandatory requirement for JCU to notify the Commonwealth Privacy Commissioner and affected individuals of ‘eligible data breaches’. An eligible data breach occurs if:

  1. there   is unauthorised access to, unauthorised disclosure of, or loss of, personal   information held by an entity;
  2. the access, disclosure or loss is likely to   result in serious harm to any of the individuals to whom the information   relates; and
  3. the entity has not been able to   prevent the likely risk of serious harm with remedial action


Data breaches can cause significant harm in multiple ways. Individuals whose personal information is involved in a data breach may be at risk of serious harm, whether that is harm to their physical or mental well-being, financial loss, or damage to their reputation. Examples of harm include:

  • financial fraud including unauthorised credit   card transactions or credit fraud
  • identity theft causing financial loss or   emotional and psychological harm
  • family violence
  • physical harm or intimidation.

Loss of data

Loss refers to the accidental or inadvertent loss of personal information held by the University, in circumstances where is it is likely to result in unauthorised access or disclosure. For example, where a staff member leaves personal information (including hard copy documents, unsecured computer equipment, or portable storage devices containing personal information) on public transport.

Unauthorised access

Unauthorised access of personal information occurs when personal information that an entity holds is accessed by someone who is not permitted to have access. This includes unauthorised access by an employee of the entity, or an independent contractor, as well as unauthorised access by an external third party (such as by hacking). For example, a staff member browses a student academic or personal record without any legitimate purpose.

Unauthorised disclosure

Unauthorised disclosure occurs when an entity, whether intentionally or unintentionally, makes personal information accessible or visible to others outside the entity, and releases that information from its effective control in a way that is not permitted by the Privacy Act. This includes an unauthorised disclosure by an employee of the entity. For example, as staff member accidentally publishes a confidential data file containing the personal information of one or more individuals on the internet.


  1. Suspected data or privacy breach
    1. Access to personal information is granted to staff only where this is necessary for work purposes and staff must only access personal information if there is a work related reason for this. Personal information must be protected against loss, unauthorised access or modification, disclosure or misuse.
    2. A suspected data breach is considered to be any event which may have involved Unauthorised Access, Unauthorised Disclosure or Loss of Data involving personal.
  2. Reporting a suspected data breach
    1. If a staff member becomes aware of a suspected data breach, they are to contact the Information Privacy Officer as soon as possible with as much information as is available via:

      Deputy University Secretary and Privacy Officer

      James Cook University
      Townsville, QLD 4811

      Via email: secretariat@jcu.edu.au

    2. The information to be provided includes:
      1. the time and date the suspected data breach was discovered,
      2. the type of personal information involved,
      3. the cause and extent of the breach,
      4. the context of the affected information and the breach, and
      5. the actions undertaken to contain the breach (see clause 5).
    3. JCU only has thirty (30) days from becoming aware of the breach, to carry out a reasonable and expeditious assessment as to whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that the data breach has been an eligible data breach.
  3. Notification requirements of eligible data breaches
    1. An eligible data breach arises when the following three criteria are satisfied:
      1. there is unauthorised access to or unauthorised disclosure of personal information, or a loss of personal information, that JCU holds;
      2. this is likely to result in serious harm to one or more individuals; and
      3. the University has not been able to prevent the likely risk of serious harm with remedial action.
    2. Whether a data breach is likely to result in serious harm requires an objective assessment by the Information Privacy Officer based on information immediately available or following reasonable inquiries or an assessment of the data breach. The potential kinds of harms that may follow a data breach include:
      1. identity theft,
      2. significant financial loss by the individual,
      3. threats to an individual’s physical safety,
      4. loss of business or employment opportunities,
      5. humiliation, damage to reputation or relationships, and/or
      6. workplace or social bullying or marginalisation.
    3. The likelihood of a particular harm occurring, as well as the anticipated consequences for individuals whose personal information is involved in the data breach if the harm materialises, are relevant considerations.
    4. If JCU acts quickly to remediate a data breach, and as a result of this action the data breach is not likely to result in serious harm, there is no requirement to notify any individuals or the Australian Information Commissioner. There are also exceptions to notifying in certain circumstances.
    5. If personal information is lost in circumstances where subsequent unauthorised access to or disclosure of the information is unlikely, there is no eligible data breach. For example, if the personal information is remotely deleted before an unauthorised person could access the information, or if the information is encrypted to a high standard making unauthorised access or disclosure unlikely, then there is no eligible data breach.
  4. Once a breach is declared eligible
    1. If a data breach is declared eligible by the Information Privacy Officer, the Chief of Staff as the University’s Critical Incident Coordinator is to be notified.
    2. The University is required to prepare a statement and provide a copy to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC). The OAIC’s online form is to be used for this process. The form includes the name and contact details of the University, a description of the Eligible Data Breach, the kind or kinds of information involved, and what steps the University recommends to individuals at risk of serious harm, in response to the eligible data breach.
  5. Data Breach Response Plan
    1. The University’s Data Breach Response Plan comprises four steps (consistent with the OAIC guide to managing data breaches in accordance with the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth)):
      1. Step 1: Contain the data breach to prevent any further compromise of personal information.
      2. Step 2: Assess the data breach by gathering the facts and evaluating the risks, including potential harm to affected individuals and, where possible, taking action to remediate any risk of harm.
      3. Step 3: Notify individuals and the Commissioner if required. If the breach is an ‘eligible data breach’ under the NDB scheme, it may be mandatory for JCU to notify.
      4. Step 4: Review the incident and consider what actions can be taken to prevent future breaches.
    2. Step 1 - Contain

      Once a data breach is suspected immediate action must be taken to limit the breach. For example, stop the unauthorised practice, recover the records, or shut down the system that was breached. If it is not practical to shut down the system, or if it would result in loss of evidence, then revoke or change computer access privileges or address weaknesses in physical or electronic security.

      To identify strategies to contain a data breach consider:

      • How did the data breach occur?
      • Is the personal information still being shared, disclosed, or lost   without authorisation?
      • Who has access to the personal information?
      • What can be done to secure the information , or stop the unauthorised   access or disclosure, and reduce the risk of harm to affected individuals?

      Notify the Information Privacy Officer

      During this preliminary stage, be careful not to destroy evidence that may be valuable in identifying the cause of the breach, or that would enable the entity to address all risks posed to affected individuals or the entity.

      Step 2 - Assess

      An assessment of the data breach will identify the risks posed by a data breach and how these risks can be addressed and must be conducted as expeditiously as possible by the Information Privacy Officer based on the information available and in consultation with the Director Information and Communication Technology and Head of Organisational Unit. The aim is to understand the risk of harm to affected individuals, and identify and take all appropriate steps to limit the impact of a data breach. Considerations in this assessment include:

      • the type or types of personal information involved in the data breach;
      • the circumstances of the data breach, including its cause and extent;   and
      • the nature of the harm to affected individuals, and if this harm can   be removed through remedial action.

      Remedial action to reduce any potential harm to individuals should be taken (such as recovering lost information before it is accessed). This might also take place during Step 1: Contain.

      The Information Privacy Officer is to determine whether the data breach is an eligible breach under the NDB scheme. This assessment is to occur within 30 days and determined in accordance with the criteria for assessing a data breach, including the risk of harm and remedial action at sect 3.

      If it is an Eligible Data Breach, the Chief of Staff will convene the Notifiable Data Breach Response Team (see appendix 2 for composition) for steps 3 and 4.

      Step 3 - Notify

      Notification to affected individuals may be considered for data breaches but must be undertaken for eligible data breaches under the NDB Scheme. Notification can be an important mitigation strategy that has the potential to benefit both JCU and the individuals affected by a data breach. However, notifying individuals can cause undue stress or harm. For example, notifying individuals about a data breach that poses very little or no risk of harm can cause unnecessary anxiety. It can also de-sensitise individuals so that they don’t take a notification seriously, even when there is a real risk of serious harm. Each incident needs to be considered on a case-by-case basis to determine whether breach notification is required.

      In considering to notify individuals who may be impacted by a data breach the following should be considered:

      • what information is provided in the notification and how this will be   provided;
      • who is responsible for notifying individuals and creating the   notification;
      • who else other than affected individuals (and the Commissioner if the   notification obligations of the NDB scheme apply) should be notified;
      • where a law enforcement agency is investigating the breach, it may be   appropriate to consult the investigating agency before making details of the   breach public; and
      • whether the incident triggers reporting obligations to other entities   (eg TEQSA or the Australian Taxation Office).

      Effective data breach response is about reducing or removing harm to affected individuals, while protecting the interests of the University. Notification has the practical benefit of providing individuals with the opportunity to take steps to protect their personal information following a data breach, such as by changing account passwords or being alert to possible scams resulting from the breach. Individuals who have been affected by a data breach must be dealt with sensitivity and compassion, in order not to exacerbate or cause further harm. Notification may also serve to demonstrate that privacy protection is taken seriously.

      The decision to notify will be made by the Chief of Staff in consultation with the Notifiable Data Breach Response Team as necessary.

      If it is an eligible data breach, notification options include:

      • Option 1 – Notify all individuals whose personal information was part   of the eligible data breach and would be used when JCU cannot reasonably   assess which particular individuals are at risk of serious harm from an   eligible data breach that involves personal information about many people,   but serious harm is likely for one or more of the individuals.
      • Option 2 — Notify only those individuals at risk of serious harm.
      • Option 3 — Publish notification If neither option 1 or 2 above are   practicable, for example, if the entity does not have up-to-date contact   details for individuals, this may include providing a copy of the statement   on the website and take reasonable steps to publicise the statement.

      Step 4 - Review

      A Lessons Learned Report will be completed on an eligible data breach incident to improve personal information handling practices. This might involve:

      • a security review including a root cause analysis of the data breach;
      • a prevention plan to prevent similar incidents in future;
      • audits to ensure the prevention plan is implemented;
      • a review of policies and procedures and changes to reflect the lessons   learned from the review;
      • changes to staff selection and training practices; and
      • a review of service delivery partners that were involved in the   breach.

      The intent of the Lessons Learned Report is to strengthen the JCU’s personal information security and handling practices, and to reduce the chance of reoccurrence. A data breach should be considered alongside any similar breaches that have occurred in the past, which could indicate a systemic issue with policies or procedures.

      If any updates are made following a review, staff will be notified in any changes to relevant policies and procedures to ensure a quick response to a data breach.

Related policy instruments

Information Privacy Policy

Requests for Access to Personal Information Procedure

Digital Technologies Acceptable Use Policy

Records Management Policy

Records Management Framework



  1. Data Breach Preparation and Response – Action Plan
  2. Responsible Officers for Data Breach Notifications

Related documents and legislation

JCU’s Information Privacy Statement and Collection Notice

Privacy and Right to Information Guidelines

Fact Sheet Privacy and Right to Information

Information Privacy Act (Qld) 2009

Right to Information Act (Qld) 2009


Approval Details

Policy DomainCorporate Governance
Policy Sub-domainRisk, Assurance, Regulatory and Compliance

Policy Custodian

Vice Chancellor

Approval AuthorityCouncil

Date for next Major Review


Revision History


Approval date

Implementation date






Procedure established

Chief of Staff


Information, privacy, personal information, data breach