Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Australian law reform commission calls for overhaul of country's privacy laws

The Australian Law Reform Commission has just released a hefty report calling for reforms to the country's privacy laws: ALRC Discussion Paper 72 Review of Privacy Laws - Contents.

Here's the media release accompanying the report:

ALRC - On-line

Australian Law Reform Commission

Wednesday 12 September 2007

ALRC proposes overhaul of ‘complex and costly’ privacy laws

The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) today released a blueprint with 301 proposals for overhauling Australia’s complex and costly privacy laws and practices.

Releasing Discussion Paper 72, Review of Australian Privacy Law, ALRC President Prof David Weisbrot said it was the product of the largest public consultation process in ALRC history: “We have received over 300 submissions and held over 170 meetings to date, including with business, consumers, young people, health officials, technology experts and privacy advocates and regulators.

“The clearest message from the community is that we must streamline our unnecessarily complex system. The federal Privacy Act sets out different principles for private organisations and for government agencies. On top of that, each state and territory has its own privacy laws or guidelines and some also have separate laws on health privacy.

“The ALRC is proposing there be a single set of privacy principles for information-handling across all sectors, and all levels of government. This will make it easier and less expensive for organisations to comply, and much more simple for people to understand their rights.

“The protection of personal information stored or processed overseas, as is now routine, is another serious concern. The ALRC wants to ensure that such information has at least the same level of protection as is provided domestically. We propose that a government agency or company that transfers personal information overseas without consent should remain accountable for any breach of privacy that occurs as a result of the transfer”, Prof Weisbrot said.

Commissioner in charge of the Inquiry, Prof Les McCrimmon, said that the ALRC also is proposing a new system of data breach notification: “There is currently no requirement to notify individuals when there has been unauthorised access to their information, such as when lists of credit card details are inadvertently published. Where there is a real risk of serious harm to individuals, we say they must be notified.”

Professor McCrimmon said that the ALRC also proposes the removal of the exemption for political parties from the Privacy Act. “Political parties and MPs should be required to take the same level of care when handling personal information as any other agency or organisation.”

Other key proposals include:

  • introducing a new statutory cause of action where an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy has been breached;
  • abolishing the fee for ‘silent’ telephone numbers;
  • expanding the enforcement powers of the Privacy Commissioner;
  • imposing civil penalties for serious breaches of the Act; and
  • introducing a more comprehensive system of credit reporting.

Review of Australian Privacy Law is available at no cost from the ALRC website, The ALRC is seeking community feedback on these proposals before a final report and recommendations are completed in March 2008. Submissions close on 7 December 2007.

Thanks to Michel-Adrien Sheppard for the link: Library Boy: Review of Australian Privacy Law.

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