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Monday, October 30, 2006

Some universities in serious privacy hot water

The Macquarie University story below revealed an unfortunate error but in terms of privacy, doesn't rate in the big league of data protection problems.

For example the US Privacy Rights Clearing House in its list of significant data security breaches since early 2005 (over 95 million Americans are said to be potentially effected) in cludes quite a list of university incidents that would make the Macquarie issue pale in comparison.

What should have had those responsible for privacy in Australian universities choking on their cornflakes was this report on Research Ethics in July broadcast on the ABC Health Report.

It raised important issues about the conduct of research, the way in which Human Research Ethics committees approve projects, and the balance struck between protecting the public and the interests of their institution.

The case referred to in the transcript is this decision of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal in WL v La Trobe University (General)(2005) VCAT2592 which turned on whether information held about the applicant in connection with the Australian Longitudinal Study of Health and Relationships was "personal" information for the purposes of the Victorian Information Privacy Act. The Tribunal decided that the information was sufficiently de-identified so that it was not information about a person whose identity could reasonably be ascertained from the information in the record. The complaint about breach of privacy failed.

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