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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Privacy law reform- in the fullness of time

Sure to be in someone's lifetime.

This recent speech by Australian Law Reform Commission President Professor Rosalind Croucher provides a useful summary of the history and current status of privacy law reform, including e-health issues. Reading the timelines reinforces the view that wheels just keep spinning on issues that in 2006 were important enough to refer to the ALRC, and on which the Commission reported in 2008.

A situation confirmed in these exchanges in the Senate Estimates hearing ( at 19:53) this week for the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet:
Senator Rhiannon I wanted to move onto health privacy. Health privacy rules promised as part of the first tranche of the Privacy Act amendments are some of the issues that I want to cover. Why has the government proceeded with the introduction of individual health identifiers and electronic health records without ensuring that an appropriate health privacy framework was in place first; and also what stage has been reached in the government's consideration of health privacy rules?

Ms Leon (Deputy Secretary Governance) : The question is one that partly will be able to be answered here and partly will need to be addressed to the Department of Health and Ageing, which has carriage of the health issues that you have raised. In relation to where the privacy reforms are up to, as you would be aware the government has provided two exposure drafts on aspects of the privacy reforms to the relevant Senate committee, which has reported on both of those. Those drafts will now be subject to some amendments in response to the committee recommendations. In relation to health reform, it is likely that the health reforms will be drafted subsequent to the reforms that are currently the subject of committee consideration and redrafting in response to those committee reports.

Senator RHIANNON: Can you tell us when that will happen, please?

Ms Leon : We do not have an exact date for that yet.

Senator RHIANNON: When will you determine that date? As you know, these things so often fall by the wayside. Do you have some framework for it?

Ms Leon : It certainly is not falling by the wayside; it is receiving very active consideration. But exactly when it will be drafted will depend on the range of other legislative drafting priorities that are with the Office of Parliamentary Counsel.

Senator RHIANNON: When you say 'other legislative drafting priorities' you do not mean in this area; you mean—

Ms Leon : No, I mean legislation generally. Getting a slot in the parliamentary drafting program does depend on the legislative priorities across the whole—

Senator RHIANNON: Is that the only thing holding it up?

Ms Leon : Certainly getting it drafted will depend upon resources in the Office of Parliamentary Counsel.

Senator RHIANNON: Are there other matters holding it up, though? You have shifted it over to the drafting office, but are there other matters internal that are holding it up?

Ms Leon : There is work proceeding, as I indicated, on the response to the committee reports on the two exposure draft bills that have already been considered, and that is certainly taking the bulk of the attention of the relevant people.

1 comment:

  1. Trevor2:02 pm

    Certainly related to health privacy is this submission from DoHA to the last inquiry into Copyright. (opens a pdf that some browsers may not like.)

    It included "Issue number 14 raises the appropriateness of law relating to government ownership of copyright given the operation of freedom of information and privacy laws in regulating access to, and use of, personal and government information. This has relevance in terms of the provision of information owned by the Australian Government for secondary research purposes. If copyright laws are to change so that the Government ceases to own the information that is currently held within information technology applications, then Health’s activities may be negatively impacted as a result of possible constraints on releases of value added information in the future."

    Now that Copyright is being looked at again, maybe someone can request the terms agreed for ALRC will include discussion of need to protect the central core parts of the identifier schemes.