Daily Telegraph (Sydney, Australia)

Parents denied children's secrets

By SIMON KEARNEY
05aug01
Daily Telegraph (Sydney)

PARENTS have been warned their children can legally withhold from them details of school records, bank accounts and medical treatment.

The federal and NSW privacy commissioners issued the warning after the Foreign Affairs Department was told it could not disclose the whereabouts of a runaway girl to her parents because she wanted her location overseas kept secret.

The girl, 15, remains overseas, and her parents were forced to find her independently of the department.

Under the law, any child judged mature enough can refuse permission for their parents to be given information about them held by others.

The laws cover information held in the public and private sectors.

NSW Privacy Commissioner Chris Puplick said medical records, information about missing children and school records (but not assessments) were among the information covered.

He said the NSW Education Department recently decided it would withhold counsellors' files from parents unless students gave consent.

A Foreign Affairs spokesman said the Federal Privacy Commissioner had told the department that if it believed a child was able to make a competent decision, it had to abide by that decision.

The Federal Government is so concerned it has ordered an inquiry so the private sector has clear guidelines about how to respond to the challenges posed by privacy laws.

Aline Altamirano, 15, ran away to East Timor last year with a 38-year-old man she met on the Internet.

The man, John Le Fevre, is a self-described "combat reporter" who covered the fighting in East Timor.

Aline used her mother's credit card without permission to buy a ticket to Indonesia.

Foreign Affairs was unable to help the family.

Aline's tearful mother, Patricia, said she waited every day for her daughter to walk through the door of their Melbourne home.

"I can't cope any more; it's a very stressful situation, very depressing."

Aline's father, Julio, said the law made him "sick".

© 2001 Mirror Australian Telegraph Publications