Treasury fails privacy test

The GST Start-Up Office is the third government department to breach privacy laws this year, after the Australian Taxation Office and the Australian Electoral Commission. Sylvie Garner, a spokeswoman from the Privacy Commission would not disclose whether more investigations were currently being undertaken by the Commission.

The Federal Privacy Commissioner, Malcolm Crompton, announced on Monday that the GST Start-Up Assistance website breached Federal privacy laws in June this year when it failed to provide appropriate security measures for the protection of personal information.

Lax security measures at the site, which included the absence of a firewall protecting personal information, allowed unauthorised access to 20,000 BSB and bank account numbers of individuals and businesses registered on the site.

Crompton found security measures on the site were "limited" and protection was largely concerned with business access requirements rather than addressing the need to protect personal information.

The GST Start-Up Office was not penalised for the incident, but was required to move the data behind the Treasury's firewall.

While no registered supplier suffered any loss or damage from the incident and the GST Start-Up Office improved security as quickly as possible after being alerted to the problem, Crompton said a "greater degree of effort" should have been put into ensuring the safety of personal information.

"If government departments are to maintain community trust in the use of online technologies, it is essential that they adequately protect the personal information they hold," Crompton said. "The individuals who applied for registered supplier status with GST-Assist rightly expected that their bank account details would not be generally accessible when they provided them."

A spokesperson from the GST Start-Up Assistance Office would not disclose details on the protection measures that have now been put in place, but said, "It meets the requirements and it was done as quickly as possible."

Meanwhile, the Privacy Commission's Garner said privacy laws for the public sector are already in place for government websites and were used in this investigation. New laws for the private sector are currently being reviewed and are due to be debated by the Senate and House of Representatives in November, Garner said.

"In a good scenario, the bill will be debated and then enacted in January 2001. It will then come into operations 12 months later," she said.

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