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Biggest changes to the Privacy Act in over 20 years passed today

The Privacy Amendment (Enhancing Privacy Protection) Bill 2012, passed Parliament today, and is due to come into effect in March 2014. The Australian Privacy Commissioner, Timothy Pilgrim, says the new laws are an important milestone for privacy in Australia. He is confident the reforms will enhance the protection of peoples’ personal information.

The reforms mean that, the same privacy principles will apply to Australian Government agencies and the private sector.

‘A single set of privacy principles, the Australian Privacy Principles (APPs), should mean that it will be  easier to comply with privacy  laws, and for individuals to know what laws protect the privacy of their personal information’, Mr Pilgrim said.

The reforms also introduce a number of changes to how personal information is handled, including when it can be used for direct marketing and sent overseas. The laws also strengthen the powers of the Commissioner.

‘From the commencement of the new laws, I will be able to accept enforceable undertakings, seek civil penalties in the case of serious breaches of privacy, and conduct assessments of privacy performance  for both Australian government agencies and private sector organisations. While I will continue to work with agencies and businesses to help them comply with privacy laws, I will not shy away from using these powers in appropriate cases’, Mr Pilgrim said.

While the changes to the Privacy Act will not commence for another 15 months, the Privacy Commissioner urges Australian Government agencies and businesses to start preparing now.

‘During 2013, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) will help businesses and government agencies by releasing guidance materials, including guidelines on the application of the new APPs and how they will apply to everyday situations.  The OAIC will also provide guidance on the Commissioner’s new powers. To ensure compliance, government agencies and businesses need to start thinking now about what these changes mean in terms of current privacy policies and business processes and practices.’

The Privacy Commissioner also warned consumers that they too need to prepare for the changes.

‘Changes to credit reporting laws mean that some organisations will be able to collect more information about people’s credit worthiness.  This includes information about whether a person has made or missed a payment on a credit card or loan. If a person misses making a payment from as early as December 2012, it will be able to be recorded on their credit record and may affect their ability to access credit in the future.  People will not only need to be vigilant about paying their bills on time, they should also make sure that the information held by these organisations is correct. In most cases they can do this for free’.

‘Of course, people should always take steps to protect their personal information, such as reading privacy policies,’ Mr Pilgrim said.

The OAIC will continue to engage with peak bodies and media about the changes. Further information and resources will be made available on the OAIC website: www.oaic.gov.au.

Watch the video of Australian Privacy Commissioner, Timothy Pilgrim speaking about the reforms (on YouTube).

People can keep in touch with the OAIC by subscribing to:

  • OAICnet — a mailing list for general updates about the OAIC’s activities
  • Privacy Connections — a network for business privacy contact officers: http://www.oaic.gov.au/news/networks/index.html#PCN.

Media contact: Ms Leila Daniels     0407 663 968      media@oaic.gov.au