Australia: Big data and the public sector: strategy and guidance

Clayton Utz Insights
Last Updated: 3 June 2014
Article by Alexandra Wedutenko and Lisa Keeling

Most Read Contributor in Australia, November 2017

Key Points:

Before any big data analytics exercise, Agencies need a thorough understanding of the inputs, outputs, and their processes to stay within the law.

The digital economy has seen an exponential increase in the production of data, not least in government-collected data about citizens and businesses, organisations' internal operations and its own interactions with external parties such as suppliers and communities.

The benefits of big data analytics are no secret; government recognises that their use can improve decision-making, targeting and delivery of services, and thus productivity, which, in turn, can substantially reduce government administrative costs. The challenge lies not in convincing agencies to use big data but in actually analysing it effectively and lawfully.

With the introduction of the Big Data Strategy and Better Practice Guide for Big Data, the Australian Government is looking to better use it to improve the way it delivers services and develops policy.

What is "big data"?

It is estimated that data is now being generated in excess of 2.5 quintillion bytes per day. That is accompanied by a surge in data sets so large that they defeat traditional software and management – the so-called "big data".

The factors that make big data challenging technically are its volume, velocity (the real time way in which most of the information is captured by a system) and the variety of disparate data sets that can be accessed.

Improvements in computing technologies, including analytics tools, storage and processing capacity, however, are now enabling big data to be analysed close to real-time.

The Australian Government's direction for big data

The Australian Government (via AGIMO) released "The Australian Public Service Big Data Strategy" in August 2013, which is "intended for Australian Government agency senior executives with responsibility for delivering services and developing policy." It sets out six principles to guide agencies in their approach to big data:

  1. Data is a national asset
  2. Privacy by design
  3. Data integrity and the transparency of processes
  4. Skills, resources and capabilities will be shared
  5. Collaboration with industry and academia
  6. Enhancing open data.

This was supplemented with the Better Practice Guide for Big Data in April 2014, which gives guidance on establishing a business requirement for a big data capability, implementation, information management and big data project management.

Establishing a business requirement for big data is premised on the standard considerations of cost and return on investment, but also on the agency's current and future:

  • strategic objectives
  • business model
  • data availability
  • (maturity of) technology and capability
  • availability of skilled personnel to manage data acquisition and analysis.

The Agency will also need to assess the likelihood of accruing benefits during the development of the capability.

Big data infrastructure challenges for government agencies

In traditional data analysis, structured sets of data were analysed often using Structured Query Language (SQL). While SQL may still be used for particular purposes, a feature of big data analytics is that all of the data, including structured, unstructured and messy data, is analysed in real time.

An Agency contemplating big data analytics needs to ensure scalability of their infrastructure to ensure the infrastructure is optimised for very fast capture and retrieval, which means understanding the likely size of the data it will capture and store.

Privacy aspects of big data

Big data is no different from any other form of data; if there is any "personal information" then the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) rules on personal information will apply to its collection, use and disclosure.

The Act's definition of "personal information" requires the information or opinion to be tied back to an individual who is identified or reasonably identifiable. The problem this poses for big data use or analytics is that even if the information starts out depersonalised, big data analytics might bring together the information and the individual again, or even create new personal information by bringing together data sets.

Thus, agencies need to understand what data is being collected and whether it will be considered personal information (or could become personal information if individuals are re-identified as a result of the big data analytics exercise). This requires reconsidering:

  • their data collection to minimise the collection of personal information (where possible);
  • how they intend to use information at the time it is collected to ensure they obtain the appropriate consents for its future use. It does not matter that there is no personal information at the time it is collected, given personal information may be created as a result of the big data analytics exercise;
  • maintaining accurate records of the (scope of) consents provided by individuals in relation to their (personal) information;
  • seeking (revised) consents for the proposed use of their personal information; and
  • removing old unnecessary data to minimise unnecessary privacy breach risk.

Keeping big data secure

Both the use of big data analytics and its outputs will need to be kept secure and comply strictly with the requirements of the Protective Security Policy Framework and the Information Security Manual to ensure public trust in the Australian Government and its systems.

Collaboration between agencies

While each agency may want to undertake big data analytics, there are benefits from agency alignment.

From a useability perspective, agencies might consider implementing a consistent approach to formats, metadata and standardised application programming interfaces (APIs) to maximise the opportunities and benefits available under a big data analytics exercise across Australia.

Risk management will also be a fundamental part of the use and analysis of big data, particularly under the new Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (Cth) with its increased focus on risk management. The development of Memoranda of Understanding between Agencies may facilitate information sharing, before and after doing big data analytics.

Who owns big data?

Finance has indicated that the Australian Government intends to own the intellectual property rights (IPR) in new databases developed as part of its big data analytics, but that it will recognise and attribute "respondents".

Finance has however not elaborated on what IPR it expects will arise as a result of a big data analytics exercise. It is questionable whether copyright protection will be available for big data databases, as the data will be developed by machines rather than a reflection of human creativity; the software code used to generate a big data database would, however, be covered by copyright.

It will be challenging for industry to engage in any big data joint private partnership currently envisaged by Finance on this basis, as the value of big data databases directly derives from access to the underlying data (in which the intellectual property rights may already be owned) and the algorithmic process of selecting and manipulating the data.

In developing big data IPR strategies, Agencies will need to carefully consider existing IPR rights, what instruments they will require to undertake big data analytics exercises, and the ownership (or licensing) of any resulting big data database.


Effective use of big data has the capacity to significantly improve Government service delivery, operations and policy development, but there are risks associated with big data analytics that will require careful consideration at all stages of any big data analytics exercise.

Advances in technologies, including cloud computing, will make big data analytics more technologically accessible for Agencies, but may also increase the associated risks of breach of confidentiality, privacy and security.

Before engaging in any big data analytics exercise, Agencies will need to ensure they have a thorough understanding of the nature of the inputs, the process required to develop the outputs and the potential scope of the outputs to ensure they effectively manage potential risks and limitations associated with big data analytics. This will also require regular revisions of big data analytics projects to ensure risks are appropriately managed.

You might also be interested in...

Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this bulletin. Persons listed may not be admitted in all states and territories.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:
  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.
  • Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.
    If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here
    If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here

    Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

    Use of

    You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


    Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

    The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


    Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

    • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
    • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
    • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

    Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

    Information Collection and Use

    We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

    We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

    Mondaq News Alerts

    In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


    A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

    Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

    Log Files

    We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


    This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

    Surveys & Contests

    From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


    If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


    From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

    *** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


    This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

    Correcting/Updating Personal Information

    If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

    Notification of Changes

    If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

    How to contact Mondaq

    You can contact us with comments or queries at

    If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.

    By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions