Oz government wants much more personal data sharing

Innovation! Agile! Research! Oh, and privacy!

Australia's Productivity Commission has kicked off an inquiry to work out how to spread individuals' data far and wide, sprinkled with the magic unicorn-dust of a privacy benchmark.

In an announcement mostly swamped by the government launching into an election campaign, the commission says the inquiry is designed to “investigate ways to improve the availability and use of public and private sector data”.

As the commission explains, it's following orders: the government wants the data to roam free as part of its “National Innovation and Science Agenda and to improve government performance through the Efficiency through Contestability Programme, as well as the findings of the Public Sector Data Management Project”.

Vulture South expects the announcement will send a shiver running up the spines of privacy advocates: the commission is well-known and often-criticised for giving economic considerations its highest priority, and indeed the terms of reference of its data-access inquiry are couched in economic terms.

“Increasing availability of data can facilitate development of new products and services, enhance consumer and business outcomes, better inform decision making and policy development, and facilitate greater efficiency and innovation in the economy”, the terms of reference states.

The inquiry is couched primarily as a cost-benefit analysis, looking at laws that “unnecessarily restrict the availability and linking of data”.

Individuals' access to their own data is included, including whether there's a business opportunity for organisations to act as “intermediaries to assist consumers in making use of their data”, a move that would also demand “standardising the collection, sharing and release of public and private sector data”.

Privacy protection is acknowledged, because as the terms of reference notes, people won't like having their data shared far and wide if they don't believe it's going to be protected.

Individuals need “sufficient control” over “who has their information and how it can be used”, the terms of reference states, and Australia should benchmark its current data protection laws against “other leading jurisdictions”.

Whatever the commission conceives to try and give people confidence, it can't be helped by the federal government's handling of data. It emerged yesterday that immigration minister Peter Dutton is sending his department to the High Court to fight off claims by 10,000 asylum seekers whose data was leaked in 2014.

The department exhibited incompetence from beginning to end: first, it published the asylum seekers' names and addresses in a document on its Website, then it demanded those who had viewed the documents “return” them, and finally, as the Federal Court decided last year, it set up an investigation designed to fail.

Rather than take the Federal Court's stinging backhander lying down, The Guardian reports immigration minister Peter Dutton has told his department to take the matter to the High Court. ®

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