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Australia: Federal Government to Reform Privacy Laws

(Oct. 22, 2009) On October 14, 2009, the Australian Federal Government released the first part of its response to a major review of Australia's privacy laws that was undertaken by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC). (Enhancing National Privacy Protection, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet website, Oct. 2009, available at

The ALRC's two-year review involved an extensive research process and the largest community consultation process in the ALRC's history. A final three-volume report, entitled β€œFor Your Information: Australian Privacy Law and Practice,” was released in August 2008. (ALRC Report 108: For Your Information: Australian Privacy Law and Practice, (last visited Oct. 19, 2009).)

The ALRC recommended 295 changes to improve Australia's privacy framework. The Government's first stage response outlines its position on 197 of these recommendations and is set to result in significant reforms of privacy law.

Cabinet Secretary and Special Minister of State, Senator Joe Ludwig, said: β€œ[t]here have been considerable changes to Australian society since the Privacy Act was created more than 20 years ago. It is essential we keep a robust and adaptable system in place to protect the privacy of individuals and businesses in the 21st century.” (Press Release, Hon. Joe Ludwig, Enhancing National Privacy Protection for the 21st Century (Oct. 14, 2009), available at

A key part of the reforms will be the creation of one set of privacy principles for government agencies and private sector organizations, with the aim of providing greater clarity and reducing red tape. (Id.) Other changes will include:

    • strengthening the Privacy Commissioner's powers of investigation, compliance, and enforcement;
    • providing for the enhanced use of data for the purpose of credit reporting, while including additional specific protections to ensure such data is used appropriately;
    • providing additional guidance for the use of health information;
    • improving guidance and education on privacy and new technologies; and
    • working with the States and Territories to harmonize privacy law across the country. (Id.)

Draft legislation will now be prepared and released for public consultation in early 2010. Once this first stage of the response has progressed, the Government also intends to consult extensively with the public and private sectors before responding to the remaining recommendations of the ALRC's report, which cover issues such as serious breach notifications and the introduction of a statutory cause of action for serious invasion of privacy. (Enhancing National Privacy Protection, supra, at 14.)