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Australia to Rewrite Privacy Laws for Information Age

by Staff Writers •
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The Federal Government has promised to overhaul Australia's privacy laws to accommodate issues arising from new technologies.

The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) has recommended almost 300 changes to Australia’s privacy laws and practices, including changes in the government and private sectors to take account of changes in online and mobile technology.

The report For Your Information: Australian Privacy Law and Practice is the result of a two year enquiry in to the Federal Privacy Act that was introduced 20 years ago.

According ALRC President, Professor Weisbrot, the Act was introduced “before the advent of supercomputers, the Internet, mobile phones, digital cameras, e-commerce, sophisticated surveillance devices and social networking websites, all of which challenge our capacity to safeguard our sensitive personal information.”

He said there was a “…pressing need for the simplification and harmonisation of law and practice, as well as more education about what the law does—and does not—require. … In For Your Information, the ALRC provides a clear framework for establishing world’s best practice in privacy protection,”

Key recommendations include:

  • Simplifying and streamlining the Privacy Act
  • Consistent national privacy principles applying to all Federal Government departments and agencies
  • Regulating cross-border data flow
  • Improved complaint handling and greater penalties
  • More comprehensive credit reporting
  • New healthcare privacy regulations
  • Data brief notification requirements

Privacy Law Reform in NSW

In support of the need for harmonisation across government jurisdictions, the NSW Law Reform Commission (NSWLRC) has released a consultation paper it says will open the way for a major overhaul of the State’s privacy laws with major implication for State Government departments and agencies.

Commissioner says it was extremely difficult to identify which State Government agencies were covered by all or some of the Privacy Principles that underpinned the legislation and which agencies and activities had complete or partial exemption from the legislation as a whole. He said the NSWLRC proposed structural changes to the legislation which would give it greater simplicity, harmony, clarity and flexibility.

The Commission proposes structural changes to the legislation aimed at achieving greater simplicity, harmony, clarity and flexibility. We propose the following key reforms:

  • The Health Records and Information Privacy Act 2002 to transfer the handling of health information by private sector organisations to the Commonwealth;
  • Consider doing away with a separate health information privacy Act so that the remaining health information held by public sector agencies was regulated under the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998 (NSW);
  • Limit the numerous exemptions in the legislation, particularly exemptions to the definition of “personal information; and
  • Facilitate the exchange of information between Agencies and organisations to improve the provision of services to vulnerable people, particularly in the area of child protection.

The paper looks at ways to eliminate duplication and inconsistencies. The NSW Commission supports the Australian Law Reform Commission’s review of federal privacy laws, and agrees that privacy laws should be consistent across Australia.

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