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Privacy reform steps up a notch

Privacy reform steps up a notch

The Commonwealth Government has released its first-stage response to the comprehensive set of reforms to privacy law that were proposed by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) earlier…

The Commonwealth Government has released its first-stage response to the comprehensive set of reforms to privacy law that were proposed by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) earlier this year.

The response addresses 197 of the 295 recommendations proposed by the ALRC, accepting 141 in full or in principle and 34 with qualification, rejecting 20 and noting two.

The remaining 98 recommendations will be considered in a second-stage response, and exposure draft legislation will be released in early 2010.

Among the proposed reforms, the Privacy Act 1988 will be amended to consolidate the current Information Privacy Principles and National Privacy Principles into a single, uniform set of high-level privacy principles to govern the public and private sectors.

The Australian Privacy Commissioner, Karen Curtis, welcomed this proposal as "an important first step" towards achieving consistency in privacy regulation nationally.

"I believe it is now critical for all jurisdictions to engage constructively through the foreshadowed COAG process to achieve national consistency in privacy regulation across all jurisdictions," she said.

The accepted reforms also include an expansion of the powers of the Privacy Commissioner. This would include the power to establish expert panels to advise the commissioner, to direct an agency to provide a Privacy Impact Statement in relation to a new project or development, and to conduct Privacy Performance Assessment of the records of information maintained by organisations. In addition, the commissioner's powers in relation to investigating and resolving complaints would be expanded, enabling the commissioner to make preliminary inquiries of third parties, to compel any relevant person to attend compulsory conferences and to seek a civil penalty in the Federal Court in serious mattes.

The Government has also accepted a number of reforms related specially to credit reporting and health services and research.

In addition, the Government in March released draft legislation aimed at consolidating freedom of information (FOI) and privacy governance. The draft legislation sees the establishment of a single Office of the Information Commissioner, which would be responsible for both privacy and FOI laws. The privacy Commissioner and the FOI Commissioner would both report to the Information Commissioner, who would act as the office's CEO.

The full first stage response can be found here: www.pmc.gov.au/privacy/alrc.cfm

- Zoe Lyon

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