The following article appeared a few days ago.
Privacy catching up to the information age
By Natasha Stott Despoja - posted Wednesday, 9 January 2008
When the Coalition was elected on March 2, 1996, few would have anticipated the intensity of the information revolution that lay ahead for the Howard government in its 11½ years at the helm.
Many considered themselves “computer literate” by then, but in reality this meant little more than the ability to tap out a letter on a word processor - at that stage it could even have been the archaic WordPerfect, long since consigned to the programming archives.
In March 1996, only the lucky few had access to the Internet at home. Google was in its infancy as a research project at Stanford University, the launch of Hotmail was months away and online banking would not be introduced by the Commonwealth Bank for another year. The likes of YouTube and Facebook were almost a decade away.
The primary instrument that protects the privacy of users in an on-line environment is the Privacy Act. It was enacted by the Hawke Labor government in 1988, the product of a seven-year research effort by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) which gave effect to Australia’s obligations to implement the OECD Guidelines for the Protection of Privacy and Transborder Flows of Personal Data.
Since our formation in 1977, the Australian Democrats have led the way on developing privacy law. It was through the use of our balance of power that we managed to defeat the Australia Card, paving the way for the formation of the Privacy Act. Our other major achievements include introducing a Private Senator’s Bill to extend the coverage of the Privacy Act to the private sector; long campaigning for the removal of several exemptions from privacy laws; and initiating the wide ranging Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee Inquiry into the effectiveness of privacy laws.
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I must admit to a little sadness to see the loss of the Democrats from the Senate as, in my view, they did some useful things over the years – except, of course, their decision to support Howard on the GST without ensuring there was an election to confirm we wanted a GST, after during the earlier election they vehemently opposed the GST and were elected to the Senate on that basis.
Despite the claims of all sorts of policy ‘wonks’ there are practical differences in the way private information (especially health information) should ideally be handled depending on whether it is held on paper or electronically. The policy outcomes (proper protection and control) should be identical – but we need to be clear the methods of implementation required to achieve those goals are often different.
I commend a browse of the article to those interested in the area.
Thanks for your efforts Senator!