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  • Matt Balogh

Privacy on the back of an envelope

Updated: Aug 17, 2021

There is an old story, back from the days of fax

machines, that someone wanted to send a letter securely by fax, so they put the letter in an envelope, and put the envelope through the fax machine.

Ok, the story probably isn’t true. But is has so many lessons for us. Firstly, that the basic tenets of privacy and security were the same for parchments a thousand years ago, for letters, for faxes in the 1980s, for emails, and for whatever is coming next.


A millennium ago, messages were sent on rolls of

parchment with wax seals – and the messengers

were selected for their talent of being illiterate.

Today we store information and send messages in

ways that we hope will tell us if anyone has seen the

message, and we hope they are conveyed by

systems that people cannot determine what is in the message.


Nearly every business or organisation in Australia is

likely to have information regarding customers,

research participants, students – or even staff. That

information must be handled in a way that is

compliant with a suite of privacy laws and principles

and kept secure. Mess that up, and the proprietor

or management can be in serious trouble. The

challenge is that privacy and information security

rules are embedded in several different legal acts

and there can be regulations in other countries that

affect your business or organisation in unexpected


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