Proposed privacy reforms released

Proposed privacy reforms released

25 October 2021 By Jerome Doraisamy
Proposed privacy reforms released

The Morrison government has unveiled the exposure draft of a bill that it says will better protect Australians online and ensure that Australia’s privacy laws remain fit for purpose in the digital age.

On Monday, 25 October, Attorney-General Senator Michaelia Cash and Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention David Coleman released a joint statement announcing the publication of an exposure draft of the Privacy Legislation Amendment (Enhancing Online Privacy and Other Measures) Bill 2021.

It will, they said, enable the creation of a binding Online Privacy code for social media services, data brokers, and other large online platforms operating in Australia.

Online platforms that are subject to the new code, the pair detailed, will have to comply with strict new privacy requirements, including stronger protections for children on social media, including taking all reasonable steps to verify their users’ age, and give primary consideration to the best interests of the child when handling children’s personal information as well as requiring them to obtain parental consent for users under the age of 16.

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The bill will also introduce tougher penalties and enforcement powers to enable Australia’s privacy regulator, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, to resolve matters more effectively and efficiently.

A-G Michaelia Cash (pictured) said that the legislation would ensure that Australians’ privacy will be treated more carefully and transparently by online platforms, such as social media companies.

“We know that Australians are wary about what personal information they give over to large tech companies. We are ensuring their data and privacy will be protected and handled with care. Our draft legislation means that these companies will be punished heavily if they don’t meet that standard,” she said.

Assistant Minister Coleman added that the new code would “lead the world” in protecting children from social media companies.

“In Australia, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a consistent increase in signs of distress and mental ill-health among young people. While the reasons for this are varied and complex, we know that social media is part of the problem,” he said.

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Young people have told us this themselves. In a 2018 headspace survey of over 4,000 young people aged 12 to 25, social media was nominated as the main reason youth mental health is getting worse. And the recent leak of Facebook’s own internal research demonstrates the impact social media platforms can have on body image and the mental health of young people.

“That’s why this legislation is so important. It will provide families with powerful protections, and require fundamental changes to the way that social media platforms operate in Australia.” 

The Attorney-General’s Department has also released a discussion paper as part of the broader review of the Privacy Act 1988, which it said builds on the work of the Online Privacy Bill.

“It tests proposals for broader reforms to Australia’s privacy frameworks. The discussion paper has been developed following extensive feedback and consultation on an issues paper released late last year,” the department noted in a statement.

“Both the bill and the discussion paper demonstrate the Australian government’s commitment to making sure privacy laws are fit for the modern age and keep pace with our digital lives,” A-G Cash said.

Proposed privacy reforms released
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