ALRC proposes privacy law overhaul

Wants to streamline unnecessarily complex systems

The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) yesterday released a blueprint with 301 proposals for overhauling Australia's complex and costly privacy laws and practices.

ALRC President Professor David Weisbrot said the review was the product of the largest public consultation process in ALRC history.

"We have received over 300 submissions and held over 170 meetings to date, including with business, consumers, young people, health officials, technology experts and privacy advocates and regulators," he stated in a media release.

"The clearest message from the community is that we must streamline our unnecessarily complex system. The federal Privacy Act sets out different principles for private organisations and for government agencies. On top of that, each state and territory has its own privacy laws or guidelines and some also have separate laws on health privacy."

The ALRC is proposing there be a single set of privacy principles for information handling across all sectors, and all levels of government.

The protection of personal information stored or processed overseas, as is now routine, is another serious concern.

"The ALRC wants to ensure that such information has at least the same level of protection as is provided domestically. We propose that a government agency or company that transfers personal information overseas without consent should remain accountable for any breach of privacy that occurs as a result of the transfer," Weisbrot said.

Commissioner in charge of the Inquiry, Professor Les McCrimmon, said that the ALRC is also proposing a new system of data breach notification.

"There is currently no requirement to notify individuals when there has been unauthorised access to their information. Where there is a real risk of serious harm to individuals, we say they must be notified."

The ALRC also proposes the removal of the exemption for political parties from the Privacy Act. Submissions for feedback on the review close on 7 December 2007 before a final report and recommendations are completed in March 2008.

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