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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Federal Parliament passes batch of laws with privacy implications

In the final weeks of sittings, the Federal Parliament passed several Bills with significant privacy implications. To access details of the legislation and the debate in Parliament go to this site, then "Current Bills by Title" and then to the relevant bill title for the legislation mentioned below.

The Privacy Legislation Amendment (Emergencies and Disasters) Bill creates a new Part of the Privacy Act that will apply to the handling of personal information during a declared emergency or disaster situation. The amendments follow evidence that was confusion and uncertainty about exchange of information, and disclosure during the 2004 Asian tsunami and other recent crises among government agencies and private sector bodies.

Some speakers during debate noted that the Federal Privacy Commissioner and the Australian Privacy Foundation both thought the issue was adequately covered by existing powers for the Commissioner to issue a public interest directive that would override the privacy principles. The Government claimed that new legislation was required to remove doubt and uncertainty.

The new legislation will apply to Federal Government agencies and private sector organisations covered by the Federal Privacy Act, but not to state government agencies in NSW, Victoria and Tasmania where separate state legislation applies. The original idea was to remove confusion and uncertainty, so this leg of the exercise might also require some attention if the objective is to be achieved.

The Anti Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Bill (see earlier blog 30 November) also passed both Houses, the Government choosing to not act on recommendations from the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, or to pick up on many recommendations contained in the independent Privacy Impact Statement. The legislation extends existing reporting requirements and requires banks and other financial service providers, gambling organisations and others to take a "risk based approach" to identify and report to Austrac suspicious financial transactions. Some speakers highlighted concerns about the scope of the law, the extension of Austrac powers, privacy intrusions, and the possibility of discriminatory profiling of customers on race or ethnic grounds.

The Telecommunications Amendment (Integrated Public Number Database) Amendment Bill amends the Telecommunications Act following concern for some years about the potential misuse of data stored on the database by directory producers and directory assistance service providers. The database, maintained by Telstra includes unlisted and listed residential and business telephone numbers, and was established to act as a resource for emergency service and law enforcement use and for the provision of directory services. The Bill provides for access for the purposes of research in limited circumstances.

There wasn't much debate due to end of session timetabling, but the Bill was criticised for not going far enough and leaving directory service providers out of the loop.

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