Can an employer look up a job candidate on the internet?

Yes, they can. Information that has been posted publicly online is available to everyone. In information privacy principle 2 of the Privacy Act, it says collecting publicly available information is a recognised exception to the general requirement that information should be collected directly from a person. Publicly available information also includes any books, magazines, newspapers, public registers or any other publication which is generally available to the public.

However, not all information on the internet is necessarily “publicly available”. A common example is where an individual has intended to share personal information with only a restricted audience on a social media site. The exact nature of the circumstances will be important in deciding whether the personal information is public or private.

Personal information should not be collected if it would be unfair or unreasonably intrusive in the circumstances (information privacy principle 4). For instance, it is not okay for an employer to:

  • ask applicants for their social media login details
  • ask them to befriend you online so you can check them out; or
  • ask an existing online friend to check them out for you.

It is important when referring to publicly available information about a job candidate to check the information is complete, relevant, accurate, up-to-date and not misleading (information privacy principle 8). The best and fairest way to check is to ask the candidate about the information and allow them to explain if it is accurate or not.

Publicly available information collected about an individual should also not be used or disclosed, if it would unfair or unreasonable to do so in the circumstances (information privacy principles 10 and 11). If the individual makes a request for access to their personal information, this will include any personal information that has been collected from publicly available sources (information privacy principle 6).