Australians increasingly rely on digital technologies for work, education, health care and daily commercial transactions and to connect with loved ones. But when they are asked to hand over their personal data they rightly expect it will be protected.
The Federal Government has announced the most significant overhaul of Australia’s privacy laws since the 1980s, with repercussions for millions of small businesses, advertisers targeting children and giving individuals the right to demand the erasure of their personal information.
Attorney General Mark Dreyfus on Thursday unveiled the Government’s much-anticipated response to the Privacy Act Review Report containing 116 proposals for reforming the Privacy Act 1988, which was released in February after two years of extensive consultation.
“The Albanese Government has committed to stronger privacy protections for Australians in its response to the landmark review of the Privacy Act,” Dreyfus said.
“Australians increasingly rely on digital technologies for work, education, health care and daily commercial transactions and to connect with loved ones. But when they are asked to hand over their personal data they rightly expect it will be protected.”
The response is largely positive to the proposals raised in the Report, but the Government has only agreed outright to 38 of the proposals, instead ‘agreeing in-principle’ to 68 and ‘noting’ a further 10.
The proposals the Government supports include:
- Giving individuals greater control over their privacy by requiring entities to seek “informed consent” about the handling of personal information
- Establishing stronger protections for children, including the introduction of a Children’s Online Privacy Code
- Making entities accountable for handling individuals’ information and enhancing requirements to keep information secure, including destroying data when it is no longer needed; and
- Providing entities with greater clarity on how to protect individuals’ privacy, and simplifying their obligations when handling personal information on behalf of another entity.
Head of Technology, Media & Telecommunications at Corrs Chambers Westgarth James North said while the response to the Report is “broadly supportive”, the Government does not provide much certainty as to the specific legislative reform that will be undertaken.
“Notwithstanding this progress, further consultation will be needed. For the majority of proposals, the Government has stated it will need to engage with regulated entities and conduct comprehensive impact analyses before formally agreeing to the proposals,” North stated in an online article.
Another significant proposal is the removal of the small business exemption, which exempts small businesses with turnover of less than $3 million from the Privacy Act. The Government has agreed in principle to remove this, but said further consultation with the sector is required before any amendments are made.
“This proposal is controversial noting the impact on small businesses of the costs of complying with complex privacy legislation,” North stated.
Further, after much backlash from the media industry, the journalism exemption will continue to operate to ensure that media organisations are not required to comply with Privacy Act obligations relating to the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information
Media organisations would also not be subject to individual rights, including the new individual rights such as the right of erasure.
Dreyfus said the next step will be to build on legislation passed last year which significantly increased penalties for repeated or serious privacy breaches, and provided the Australian Information Commissioner with greater powers to address privacy breaches.
“The Attorney-General’s Department will conduct an impact analysis and continue to work with the community, business, media organisations and government agencies to inform the development of legislation and guidance material in this term of Parliament,” Dreyfus said.
“The Government will also consider appropriate transition periods as part of the development of any legislation.”
The privacy reform will complement other critical reforms by the Government, including Digital ID, the 2023-2030 Australian Cyber Security Strategy, the National Strategy for Identity Resilience, and Supporting Responsible AI in Australia.
Read the Government response to the Privacy Act Review Report here.