Opening statement by Timothy Pilgrim, Acting Australian Information Commissioner, to Senate Estimates

15 February 2016
Tags: statement

I would like to make a brief statement outlining the current work of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner and touch on some of our priority areas. As the committee is aware, the functions of the OAIC fall primarily from our regulatory role under both the Privacy Act 1988 and the Freedom of Information Act 1982. I am pleased to be able to report that while our workload and responsibilities under those statutes grow, the office is continuing to manage its responsibilities effectively within the resources available to us.

I will start with some statistics. In the previous financial year, 2014-15, the office received some 18,066 inquiries covering both privacy and FOI matters. In the first six months of the current financial year, to 31 December 2015, we have received approximately 10,266. In terms of our privacy functions, in 2014-15 we received 2,840 complaints. In the first six months of this financial year we have received 1,076 and we have finalised 1,107 in an average time of five months. We have also received 55 voluntary data breach notifications in the current year to 31 December, having received 117 in the previous financial year. I have opened seven commissioner-initiated investigations, having opened four in the previous financial year. We have undertaken nine assessments, formerly known as audits, of both public and private sector entities up to 31 December 2015. In the previous financial year we undertook 12 in total. We have lodged 19 submissions to various parliamentary committees and government consultation processes dealing with the use of personal information. In the previous financial year we made 36 such submissions.

In 2016 some of our priority areas in privacy will focus on continuing our oversight role in the eHealth sector, particularly with the trials of the opt-in system with the My Health Record. We will work on the extension of our oversight role emanating from the data retention and foreign fighters acts. We will be providing regulatory oversight of the privacy implications arising from the enhanced welfare payment integrity initiative. We will be working with the Attorney-General's Department on the security agenda, including specific issues such as national facial biometric matching capabilities. We will also be working with the Attorney-General's Department on the proposed mandatory data breach notification scheme.

Further, under what I would describe as the broad title of data usage, we are engaging closely with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet on the public sector data management initiative. We will be working on guidance for both the public and private sectors on big data and privacy, as well as data matching and de-identification. We also continue to work with our international counterparts in terms of the globalisation of personal data flows and the need for cross-border cooperation in the regulation of these movements of personal information. We will be taking opportunities to engage with the community on privacy more generally through our education and promotion work, such as during Privacy Awareness Week in May, where this year the newly appointed United Nations Special Rapporteur on privacy, Professor Joseph Cannataci, will be in Australia to speak at our functions.

Turning briefly now to our FOI function, in the 2014-15 financial year we received 373 applications for Information Commissioner (IC) reviews of agency decisions. In the current financial year to 31 December we have received 249 and finalised 236. I am also pleased to advise the committee that our average time taken to close an information commissioner review has reduced from approximately 10 months in 2013, just prior to the announcement of the disbanding of the OAIC, to three months by the end of 2015.

By way of some further breakdown, of the 236 IC review applications are finalised, 31 per cent were conciliated or withdrawn, 24 per cent were finalised as being misconceived, frivolous or vexatious, 18 per cent went to the Commissioner, myself, for decision, 10 per cent were referred to the AAT, 10 per cent were out of jurisdiction, three per cent were substituted with a different decision by the agency, and two per cent are subject to an IC review having reached an agreement between both parties.

I hope this provides the committee with a useful overview, albeit a brief summary, of the activities of our office. Of course, as I have said to the committee before, we are able to achieve this through a very committed and enthusiastic team of people. Thank you.

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