confidential conversations small business risk management

Confidential Conversations and Communications

Have you heard or seen any confidential conversations in public lately? Or have you inadvertently taken part in one?

Mobile devices and changed working conditions have blurred the line between office, home, and café.

Everything you can think of – intellectual property; meetings of all sorts; legal challenges; HR disciplinary actions; trashing the boss, work colleagues, and customers – names are mentioned, intimate details discussed, settlement $ agreed on. All these things that were once discussed behind closed doors / documents with sensitivity classifications are now aired in public.  Nothing seems to be out of bounds. 

Some topics may not necessarily be confidential but should be held in private. Regardless of the situation, be mindful of who you are representing; this is particularly important if you are wearing company branded uniforms, using a company vehicle, or any other item that may be used to easily identify who you represent.

Most of us have had meetings and taken calls that start off generic but quickly became confidential and/or private in nature. This goes equally for text, emails, and hardcopy documents.

As we settle into the new world order, I would encourage everyone to be mindful of the content in conversations when in hearing or reading distance of others. Irrespective of if you are in your own home or out and about, and/or the possible legal or business consequences – the litmus test is ‘Would I like anyone to be discussing me, my business or someone I care about in this setting?’

Understandably, there can be serious ramifications for individuals being discussed. Equally important to understand is that those involved in the discussions can be liable for criminal prosecution and/or it can have a negative consequence to the business brand.

The Privacy Act 1988 and related Principals are understandably complex.

From a risk management perspective, my advice is to err on the side of caution and simply don’t talk or write about anything that may be confidential or private in sight or hearing of anyone who shouldn’t have that information or where it could damage your personal brand or that of your business.

Leanne Bicknell              Director Innovation and Development                Risk.Report   

+61 (0)455 330032

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Rueben Sandwich – Chocolate Chilli, James St Guildford, Western Australia


In lay terms, the Privacy Act 1988 describes confidential information that includes information and an opinion about an individual’s: racial or ethnic origin; political opinions or membership of a political association; religious beliefs or affiliations; philosophical beliefs; membership of a professional, trade association, or trade union; sexual orientation or practices; criminal record; personal and health information; genetic information; biometric information, or templates.

Briefly, the 13 Australian Privacy Principals associated with the Act include dealing with personal information pertaining to: Open and transparent management; Anonymity and pseudonymity; Solicited and unsolicited information; Collection; Use or disclosure; Direct marketing; Cross-border disclosure; Adoption, use or disclosure of government related identifiers; Quality; Security; Access.

Furthermore Chapter 2 of the Criminal Code (except Part 2.5) applies to all offences against this Act.

Further resources

The Privacy Act 1988 with amendments registered 25/Oct/2021 Comp No. 89

The Australian Privacy Principles (APP)