Privacy Commissioner calls for accountability, consistency on data retention talks

The Australian Privacy Commissioner, Timothy Pilgrim, has told a Senate inquiry that any talks about a data retention regime from organisations or government needed to be consistent and accountable to stakeholders.

Addressing the inquiry, which examined the adequacy of protections for the privacy of Australians online, Pilgrim said the Office of the Privacy Commissioner would not support data retention of personal information “on the chance that it may be just useful at some later date”.

“Broad scale collection and retention of web browsing information, could significantly impact on the privacy of individuals,” he said.

Consistency between online and offline data retention was also required, he said.

“Holding information, whether it be in databases or in an old-style filing cabinet when data is around for a long time there’s often a great risk something could happen to it, it could be mishandled or it could be used for inappropriate purposes.

“I’ve not seen demonstrated necessarily why there should be any difference between whether the information is being handled online or offline.”

Greens senator, Scott Ludlam, called for the inquiry in June in an effort to see more transparency in the talks.

“It is time the Parliament took a proper look at the degree to which the privacy of Australians online is being eroded by Governments and corporations alike,” he said at the time.

However, Pilgrim urged the inquiry to go further by implementing privacy risk assessment for such regimes, for the purpose of ensuring information is kept private where possible. Any outcomes from the assessments could the influence amendments to privacy legislation, which he recommended take place every two to five years for the purpose of remaining up to date.

Pilgrim’s calls come as the Office of the Privacy Commissioner prepares to fold into the newly instated Office of the Australian Information Commissioner on 1 November. While Pilgrim will remain as Privacy Commissioner, the agency will be overseen by Professor John McMillan as Australian Information Commissioner. A third commissioner overseeing issues regarding Freedom of Information requests is yet to be named.


Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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