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Privacy Act to be Updated for the New Information Age

by Staff Writers •
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In a recent speech, Special Minister of State, Senator John Faulkner, announced that the Government intended to update Australia’s privacy framework to take it into the modern age, addressing the impact of new technologies, and issues of cross-boarder privacy issues.

Noting that Australia’s privacy legislation is now 20 years old, Mr Faulkner said the Government is waiting on results from a review of Australia’s Privacy Act being undertaken by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC).

“It is also timely that the ALRC is considering the rapid advances in information, communication, storage, surveillance and other technologies when looking at whether the Privacy Act continues to provide an effective framework for the protection of privacy in Australia,” Senator Faulkner said.

“With rapid changes in technology, including the advent of biotechnology security, it is important to examine whether privacy regulation should extend beyond the protection of personal data alone.”

“The ALRC's final report at the end of May will provide an opportunity for the Government to tackle the challenge of privacy reform and build a privacy regime to serve modern Australia.”

Mr Falkner also addressed the issue of cross border privacy, noting the ease with which personal information can flow across international borders with the use of computers and a boom in communications, including the advent of the Internet.

Australia is leading projects within APEC aimed at developing appropriate co-operative arrangements and a network between regulators in the region to provide consumers with a one-stop shop for privacy issues arising anywhere in our region. Australia is also actively engaged with privacy issues in the OECD that along with the APEC activities provides an opportunity to progress privacy protection globally.

Speaking at the same event, Federal Privacy Commissioner Karen Curtis said she was worried whether the Privacy Act continues to remain technologically relevant. She provided a quote from the Australian Law Reform Commission’s 1983 report on privacy – which led to the development of the Privacy Act:

“personal computers may provide effective safeguards for privacy because they are not interconnected – the information they store may be available only to a few”.

One of the issues she flagged in relation to the public sector was the need for national consistency. She emphasised that the Privacy Act needs to be consistent with other Commonwealth and State laws. This, and internal consistency within the Privacy Act would minimise government and private sector compliance burdens and allow individuals to better understand and exercise their rights.

Ms Curtis said a uniform approach to privacy law would cut through the current confusion over obligations under federal and state laws, inconsistencies and overlap with other legislation.

She warned that businesses "collecting more information than they really need, using or disclosing that information inappropriately, and failing to secure their databases" risked losing customer trust, brand damage and loss of market share.

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