Monday, 15 March 2010

Who's guarding the guards guarding your personal information?

Just as the Rudd Government has two bills before Parliament which would a) allow the Australian Taxation Office to hand secret taxpayer information to other government agencies to "prevent or lessen" a serious threat to public health or safety and b) establish a national database containing every citizen's personal residential and health information in the face of serious continuing doubts concerning data security and function creep, as well as intending to sanction the non-consensual handling of personal information to facilitate research in the public interest, not just for medical and health research, the Australian Law Reform Commission releases a series of recommendations which advise government to weaken criminal sanctions in certain circumstances for improperly disclosing information.

In the face of evidence that Medicare, Centrelink, the Tax Office and certain other government agencies all have a long history of spying on individual client records and that theft and sale of health information is not unknown internationally - do we really need to see criminal sanctions watered down for any form of unlawful information sharing?

Of course the principal motivation for establishing this national database is not just installing an e-Health program, it also appears to be a desire to create a backdoor citizen identification scheme similar to those proposed in relation to the Australia Card and Access Card, so this haphazard approach to the security of a citizen's personal digital information is perhaps par for the course.

ALRC media release on 11 March 2010:

The final report of the Australian Law Reform Commission's comprehensive review of Commonwealth secrecy laws, Secrecy Laws and Open Government in Australia (ALRC Report 112) was tabled in federal Parliament today. The report is the product of a 15-month inquiry and makes 61 recommendations for reform. It sets out a new and principled framework designed to reinforce open and accountable government while ensuring adequate protection for Commonwealth information that should legitimately be kept confidential......
Prof Croucher stated that a key focus of the ALRC report was to "wind back" the use of criminal sanctions, for the unauthorised disclosure of information, including the repeal of s 70 of the Crimes Act 1914, which has attracted consistent criticism over the years. "Criminal sanctions should only be imposed where the unauthorised release of information has caused, or is likely or intended to cause, harm to identified public interests."

ALRC Report 112 Secrecy Laws and Open Government in Australia

Terms of Reference (PDF) (RTF)
List of Participants (
List of Recommendations (
Executive Summary (PDF) (RTF)

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

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