No privacy reform commitments from major parties

Brandon How

The Coalition is uncommitted to privacy reform and Labor remains silent despite broad support from independents and minor parties, according to the Australian Privacy Foundation.

Updated on Thursday, the Australian Privacy Foundation’s (APF) election scorecard indicated support for its recommended privacy priorities. The group invited 100 political parties and independent candidates to express whether they supported the APFs privacy priorities released in April.

Included in the privacy priorities are six legislative amendments aimed at bringing privacy protection under Australian law “into the 21st century and up to the standard of peer developed countries”. This includes removing exemptions under the Privacy Act for employee records, registered political parties and political ‘acts and practices’, and journalism, aside from reports on public officials in the performance of their duties.

APF chair David Vaile said that a majority of the minor parties supported all the priorities, but many responses lacked an explanation. However, he praised South Australian Senator Rex Patrick for committing to introduce legislation to amend the Privacy Act 1988 to properly safeguard sensitive voter information” if re-elected and calling on the major political parties to “end their exemption from national privacy safeguards”.

The Coalition or Labor did not commit to any of the Australian Privacy Foundation amendment proposals

The federal Greens were among those who fully support the proposals of the APF. They have also proposed the introduction of a Digital Rights Commissioner within the Australian Human Rights Commissioner.

The purpose of this role would be to “be a watchdog and arbiter to ensure that human rights held by people offline are protected online, in accordance with a unanimous 2013 UN General Assembly Resolution,” a spokesperson said.

Labor did not reply to the APFs inquiries despite “a large number of attempts to contact individuals there”, according to Mr Vaile, although he acknowledged their correspondence may have been lost over the busy election period. He said a detailed response was received from the Coalition, but this did not include any clear commitments.

“The response from the Liberal party had quite a lot in it, but it didn’t add up to a substantial commitment to support any of the principles that we could see in an unambiguous way. They’ve given [the privacy principles] some attention to acknowledge that without directly saying, one way or the other, they didn’t deliver anything that looked like a commitment,” Mr Vaile said.

The APF’s priorities also include an amendment to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act to outlaw the ABC from sharing identifiable personal data with other entities, and to prevent the mandatory provision of personal data to access the ABC’s “full digital media services”.

The other amendment priorities include an update to the legal definition of consent, preventing public circulation of personal information unless it is permanently anonymous, a dedicated and well resourced Privacy Commissioner, and a statutory tort for breach of privacy. According to APF, the latter has been “recommended by five Australian Law Reform reviews over three decades”.

Mr Vaile believes that Labor and the Coalition hesitate from committing to privacy law reform to avoid restraining themselves should they form government. However, he qualified this by stating that there are parts of the major parties that support the need for privacy rights.

Commenting on the Coalition government since 2013, Mr Vaile expressed his frustration at the active attempts to “nobble, abolish, undermine, humiliate, or intimidate what’s left of the Privacy Commissioner” referring back to the Coalition’s failed attempt to abolish the OAIC and other tactics.

“They also just swamped [the OAIC] with administrivia. One example was the mandatory data breach disclosure system. If you don’t want to tell people you’ve lost all their data, you can go to the Privacy Commissioner and whine about why you shouldn’t have to. This creates this massive extra workload…because there’s lots of breaches that go on,” Mr Vaile said.

Responding to a question on notice, Attorney-General Michaela Cash noted that as of February 2 there were 85 data breach notices that had not been finalised. Further, the 2020-21 target of processing 80 per cent of notifiable data breaches within 60 days was only just met.

Before entering the caretaker period, the Coalition failed to introduce stricter penalties for data breaches. In April, it was reported that a review of the Privacy Act also running six months late.

The Labor party and the Coalition were contacted for comment asking what their response to the privacy priorities, but no reply was received.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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