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New laws to enhance privacy rights

Privacy law reform is a step closer with the announcement today that the Australian Government will introduce amendments to the Privacy Act 1988 (the Act) during the Winter sitting of Parliament.

Australian Privacy Commissioner, Timothy Pilgrim said he welcomed the announcement that the changes will include new powers for the Commissioner to enforce privacy laws. The announcement comes during Privacy Awareness Week 2012.

“This announcement is a significant step forward in privacy law reform. The proposed new powers will allow me to resolve major privacy investigations more effectively and ensure that privacy continues to be valued as an important human right in Australia,” Mr Pilgrim said.

“The strengthening of these powers also sends a strong message to government agencies and businesses covered by the Act that there can be significant consequences when personal information is not given an appropriate level of protection.”

The changes will allow the Commissioner to:

  • Accept a written undertaking from an organisation that they will take or refrain from a specified action. This will be enforceable in the Federal Court or Federal Magistrates Court.
  • Make a determination following an investigation conducted on the Commissioner’s own initiative. Currently, the Act only allows a determination to be made when investigating a complaint from an individual about an act of practice.
  • Seek civil penalties in the case of serious or repeated interferences with privacy.
  • Conduct performance assessments of private sector organisations handling personal information. Currently the Commissioner can only conduct audits of government agencies and credit reporting agencies.

“These changes give me more options when undertaking an investigation on my initiative. At the moment I can only make a determination when I am investigating a complaint made by an individual,” Mr Pilgrim said.

“The power to conduct performance reviews of organisations will allow me to work with the private sector to achieve good privacy practices. This is consistent with my approach to compliance with the Privacy Act and I expect this to continue.”

“These additional powers will provide added strength to the enforcement of privacy laws, reinforce the significance of privacy compliance, and give organisations an even greater incentive to take their privacy responsibilities seriously.”

Other privacy law reform changes to be introduced are in the areas of credit reporting and the introduction of a set of Australian Privacy Principles.

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