Our reference: D2019/004601

Deputy Commissioner
Smarter Data
Australian Taxation Office

By email: [redacted]
cc: [redacted]

Request for exemption from Guidelines on Data Matching in Australian Government Administration

Dear [redacted],

I refer to your letter dated 1 May 2019 regarding the Australian Taxation Office’s (ATO) Lifestyle assets 2013-14 and 2014-15 financial years data matching program protocol.

I understand that the program has matched data relating to insurance policies for certain classes of assets, including marine vessels, enthusiast motor vehicles, thoroughbred race horses, fine art and aircraft provided by specialist and general insurers against ATO records. This is to identify individuals who accumulate, improve, dispose or purchase assets, but may not be meeting their registration, reporting, lodgement and/or payment obligations.

The ATO has already sought and received an exemption from the data destruction timeframes contained in Guideline 7 of the Guidelines on Data Matching in Australian Government Administration 2014 (the Guidelines), extending the retention timeframe to just over three years (to 30 June 2019). It is now seeking to retain the data for a further two years, taking the total retention period to just over five years from receipt of the final instalment of verified data files from the data providers, on the basis that this is required for the protection of public revenue.

Consideration of issues under Guideline 10

Under Guideline 10, in seeking an exemption an agency must:

  • advise the Commissioner in writing of the details of the proposed data matching program
  • in that advice, specify how the proposed data matching program would be inconsistent with the guidelines
  • explain the public interest grounds that justify the inconsistency.

In my view, the ATO’s correspondence satisfies these requirements. This includes explaining the public interest grounds for the exemption in the program protocol, such as that if the data retention period is not extended this would:

  • inhibit the ATO’s ability to form a holistic view of a taxpayer’s asset position once additional data in the form of annual returns becomes available
  • inhibit the ATO’s ability to identify taxpayers who may be subject to administrative action and therefore result in loss of public revenue
  • restrict the ATO’s ability to assist individuals to comply with their taxation obligation and educate taxpayers that are non-compliant from repeating the behaviour.

While the proposed variation from the guidelines increases the risk to individuals’ privacy, I agree the range of safeguards outlined in your correspondence appear to appropriately manage and minimise this increased risk. These safeguards include:

  • storing data on secure computer systems where access is strictly controlled, and full audit logs maintained
  • adherence to privacy and secrecy legislation that prohibits the improper access to, or disclosure of, protected information.

Exemption approval

On a previous occasion, the then Acting Information Commissioner considered the information provided by the ATO and agreed that compliance with the data destruction requirements would significantly reduce the effectiveness of the ATO's data matching program. In this instance, I am satisfied that the public interest grounds outlined by the ATO justify further departing from the guidelines. Complying with Guideline 7 would inhibit the ATO’s ability to protect public revenue through identifying individuals who are failing to meet their taxation obligations and assisting them to comply.

I approve the ATO’s request to retain information collected during the data matching program for a period longer than 90 days. I have agreed to this exemption on the understanding that the information will not be retained beyond five years from the receipt of the last instalment of data files from the data provider, unless a further exemption is approved.

The exemption is only applicable to the data collected for the Lifestyle assets 2013-14 and 2014-15 financial years data matching program protocol.

Publication on the OAIC website

Under Guideline 10.6, it is the OAIC’s normal practice to make exemption requests publicly available. The ATO has advised it does not request that this advice be kept confidential and, as such, the OAIC will make it publicly available on the OAIC website.

Yours sincerely,

Angelene Falk
Australian Information Commissioner
Privacy Commissioner

27 June 2019