by Jeremy Malcolm, Internet lawyer
I have recently been asked:
I am in Australia and operate a membership based consultant business. We are looking at sending out an electronic newsletter to all of our members and potential members. We have accumulated many email addressess through many hours of data entry. Is it legal to use the emails that we have acquired (from phoning the companies up for information) to send them newsletters or is this a breach of privacy? We are looking at a mailing list of around 5000 people.
At the moment, one of the most important determining factors will be whether your business is defined as a small business because it has an annual turnover of $3 million or less. If so, and you are not trading in peoples' personal information (eg. selling your mailing list), then you are probably exempt from the Privacy Act for now.
If you were not exempt from the Privacy Act, you would have some additional obligations including the obligation to inform your contacts about the purpose for which you are collecting their personal information and how they can gain access to the information, and to ensure that the information is accurate and kept securely.
Soon, it is likely that new anti-spam legislation will be passed by the Federal Government which will make things more difficult for you. Once this legislation is passed, you will need to obtain the consent of anyone to whom you send your newsletter, unless they are an existing customer and have not previously requested to be unsubscribed. If you fail to comply with these obligations, you could face a fine of up to $1.1 million per day.