Australian Law Reform Commission readies information privacy dossier

Laws will dramatically change IT practices and electronic data management

After its largest public consultation exercise ever, the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) expects that the single biggest reform to Australia's information privacy laws will be the proposal for a set of uniform and simplified principles for businesses, organisations and individuals.

The ALRC is due to present its final report and recommendations on amendments to Australia's information privacy laws to the Attorney General at the end of this month, which will bear significant impact on IT practices and the way electronic data is collated, stored and maintained.

The mammoth process of community consultation undertaken by the ALRC in reaching its final recommendations to the AG was the largest in its history, according to Professor David Weisbrot, president of the ALRC.

"We had exactly 250 meetings. We've had just a tick under 600 written submissions, all very substantial. Some were from individuals relating their concerns, but lots from state and federal government departments, major stakeholders like the Australian Medical Association, and of course various IT professionals, corporations and so on. It's been a huge exercise," Weisbrot told Computerworld.

Weisbrot will provide a presentation at the AusCERT security conference on the Gold Coast next week talk and will focus on the impact the reforms could have on the IT practices of businesses and individuals, specifically relating to security and compliance issues such as data security principles and data breach notification guidelines.

"One of the big concerns we hear from everyone - big, small, public and private, is that the law in Australia is much, much too complex. The Federal Privacy Act is a big, clunky act, and every state and territory now has privacy legislation, and NSW and Victoria have separate health privacy legislation.

"And then there is even within the existing federal regime two different sets of privacy principles; one for the public and one for the private sector, which are similar but not identical. So we're hearing from people [such questions as] -'Which law am I supposed to abide by?'"

Weisbrot said that the single biggest reform coming out of the exercise will be the proposal for a set of uniform privacy principles that will simplify the current versions of privacy laws.

"I think there will be 11 (principles), but metaphorically they will be the Ten Commandments," he said.

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