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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Australia flunks privacy exam

This isn't a map where colours indicate the old British Empire. But red and black indicate those countries with exceedingly poor form when it comes to privacy protection.

Privacy International and the Electronic Privacy Information Center have released results of their 2007 survey of the state of privacy protection in EU countries and a number of others including Australia. Countries were graded across 14 criteria. It's not a pretty picture anywhere, with the growth of all sorts of electronic surveillance. Australia features in the second worst category - "Extensive surveillance societies" - just a few points outside the worst - "Endemic surveillance societies". We are a long way behind Canada, but a bit in front of the US, the UK and others including China and Russia.

The full country report on Australia is here - the summary as follows:
  • "No right to privacy in federal constitution, though one territory now includes the right to privacy within its bill of rights
  • Comprehensive privacy laws at federal level and others within some states and territories, but there are broad exemptions that have precluded action by the privacy commissioner against small businesses and political parties; and does not meet international standards
  • Power of commissioner diminished because determinations are not legally binding
  • Numerous reports of data breaches, including at the taxation office, child support agency, and even amongst the police
  • High level of interception activity; no notification requirement to innocent participants to communications
  • Expanded surveillance powers in 2004
  • Movement towards electronic medical records but no opt-in protections as yet
  • De-identified medical data has been approved by the privacy commissioner for sale to pharmaceutical companies, despite protests
  • Expanded financial surveillance and secret reporting
  • DNA collection only for serious crimes at the moment
  • Made preliminary steps to secure passports in 2006
  • New government promised to abandon ID card plans; the office of access card has been closed but senior staff have moved to other department hinting at possible proposals to emerge
  • Document verification service for use by public and private sector is being implemented despite lack of privacy considerations
  • Abusive case of visa revocation of individual related to suspects in UK anti-terrorism case"
The only report of the survey that appears to have made it into the mainstream Australian media is this report in The Age that failed to mention anything about our own performance - but after all it is summertime!

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