Changes to Australia's privacy laws were recently announced
to much fanfare by the federal government. Attorney General Nicola
Roxon hailed them as the most significant changes to the Privacy
Act in 24 years, strengthening Australians' rights to
Roxon highlighted new powers to the Privacy Commissioner to
issue million dollar fines against government agencies and
companies for serious and repeated privacy breaches.
Companies will have to give people an easy opt-out from
receiving direct marketing material and have greater obligations to
ensure comprehensive privacy policies are in place. Rules on
collecting and using private information are tightened.
The changes don't come into force until March 2014 to give
business and bureaucracy time to adjust.
But just as the government gives, so does it take away. Buried
in the 290 pages of an explanatory memorandum for the Privacy
Amendment (Enhancing Privacy Protection) Act 2012 are details of
how authorities and corporations can get even more information on
Credit providers will be able to provide customers'
repayment history to banks if they haven't repaid loans two
weeks after default. Companies will be able to give customers'
personal information to offshore call centres.
The new laws also remove bans on biometric data such as facial
scans recorded in passports, driver licences or office and
nightclub entry passes being given to police or spy agencies
without a warrant. This type of photographic facial recognition
technology is growing in pubs, clubs, ATMs, shops and offices.
It comes as police and government security agencies have sharply
increased their access to vast amounts of private telephone and
internet data. Figures from the Attorney General's Department
show that an average 5,800 times a week government agencies obtain
private internet and telephone data from Australians, up 20 per
cent on last year. Access is authorised by senior police officers
or officials rather than by judicial warrant. It's not just
police who use the information, but also the taxman, Medicare,
Centrelink, Australia Post, RSPCA and local councils.
The government has proposed even more powers for authorities,
including a minimum two year online data retention standard for
phone and internet providers. It's all in the name of national
security and fighting crime, but there are concerns the growth of
data retention lacks independent or judicial overview and the
extent to which it breaches privacy. A parliamentary committee is
currently looking at the issue and there are fears of "Big
Ironically, the government has refused to release its draft
legislation on the issue, saying there is a need to keep the
material private until it is ready for public release.
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