Call to reform Privacy Act because of data haul by Google and others

November 11, 2019

Even after writing about privacy for a decade and more, it still never ceases to amaze me that media write in breathless tones about the problem with organisations using and misusing data and personal information as if it was some form of revelation.  The only thing that has changed has been the great efficiency in the misuse.  The latest offering is the Australian’s piece Giants’ data haul sparks call to reform privacy act which is a bit of a spruik dressed up as an article for a conference to be hosted by the Consumer Policy Research Centre on 19 November 2019.

The chief executive is calling for “urgent reform of the Privacy Act” to better protect consumers.  She also wants a Consumer Data Right.  The call to reform the Privacy Act is misconceived.  There is no point increasing the powers of Read the rest of this entry »

The Australian Information Commissioner releases a Guide to health privacy

October 12, 2019

The Australian Information Commissioner has recently released a Guide to Health Privacy.  At over 50 pages it is quite comprehensive.  It is less equivocal than previous guides published by the Information Commissioner.  That is not to say it does not descend into vague generality more than it should. The Commissioner’s guidelines have no force of law under the Privacy Act 1988.  That obvious fact has been stated by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and the Federal Court.  As they are not regulations their use as a legal document is relatively limited.  They do however serve as a standard which the Information Commissioner expects agencies and organisations to follow in order to comply with the Privacy Act.

While some of the Commissioner’s previous and current guidelines are so vague, rubbery and equivocal as to be of little use that is not really the key regulatory issue.  The problem has always been the reluctance by the regulator in taking enforcement action.  That has been a 30 year problem. The powers available to the Commissioner have grown over the years.  That has not been matched by Read the rest of this entry »

Victorian Information Commissioner finds that Public Transport Victoria has breached the privacy of myki users. A cause of action?

August 15, 2019

In a brilliant piece of analysis Dr Chris Culnane, Associate Professor Benjamin Rubinstein and Associate Professor Vanessa Teague of the University of Melbourne have demonstrated in their paper released today titled Stop the Open Data Bus, We Want to Get Off that de identification of unit record level data does not work without substantially altering the data to the point where its value is reduced.  The analysis was based on the data released by the Victorian Government in to a data science competition.  The authors have demonstrated that a combination of only needing a small number of points of information to make an individual unique and poor quality anonymisation and security techniques makes it quite easy to reidentify individuals. 

In the case of the myki data the authors found that “little to no de identification took place on the bulk of the data.”  They found it was a straightforward task to re identify two of the co authors cards.  They also established that is possible to identify a stranger from public information about their travel patterns, for example twitter to name just one source.  They identified Read the rest of this entry »

The Western Australian Government announces that it will start the process to implement privacy legislation in that state

August 12, 2019

Western Australia and South Australia have been outliers in not having any statutory framework for the protection of personal information. That is likely to change, a little, with the Western Australian Government through its Attorney General releasing a discussion paper titled Privacy and Responsible Information Sharing for the Western Australian public sector

As the name suggests whatever structure is implemented will only apply to personal information collected, used and stored by the Government and its agencies, statutory authorities and other instrumentalities. Even though it is a discussion paper the Government is clearly envisaging following the legislative structure adopted in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. Each of those jurisdictions has a privacy and data protection act and has established Read the rest of this entry »

A significant data breach of medical histories at Neoclinical, an example of how not to respond to a data breach meanwhile the ACCC commences action against HealthEngine for selling its customers data. Big problems with data security in the health sector, no news there…

August 8, 2019

Paradoxically the one type of data that is regarded as most sensitive, health information, is often the most poorly protected.  The privacy protection culture is poor and insufficient resources are put into protecting personal information and staff training is often times rudimentary.  There is a constant stream of breaches reported including in the last fortnight thousands of pharmaceutical records leaked in the US, a data breach in Presbyterian Healthcare Services in Alberquerque resulted in unauthorised access to 183,000 patients, the all too regular instance of medical records in paper form being left on the street, this time in London Canada and a health Centre in Kentucky paying $70,000 ransom to unlock medical records of 20,000 patients. There are clear challenges in securing personal information in health centres and hospitals with many individuals having access to data at many terminals however the challenges are surmountable.  Most data breaches are a result of poor practices and insufficient time, money and effort going into setting up proper hardware and software, establishing proper processes and training and then more training.

The Nine/Fairfax press reports on a major data breach at Neoclinical, a company which matches individuals with active clinical trials.  The data is sensitive by definition but it is even more concerning given the data that Neoclinical heald was users responses to questions qualifying them for clinical trials.  Those sort of questions go to medical diagnoses illicit drug use and treatments received.  The breach involved its 37,170 users.  The breach was detected by UpGuard which sent an email to Neoclinical.  Neoclinical did not notify the Information Commissioner about the breach when notified or even shortly after.  It did nothing until Read the rest of this entry »

Australian Competition & Consumer Commission releases the Digital Platforms Inquiry – calls for more privacy protections amongst many other recommendations

July 30, 2019

Last Friday, 26 July 2019, the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission released its long anticipated and comprehensive final report.  At 623 pages it is something of a tome, not surprisingly given the broad and comprehensive recommendations it makes. The executive summary is found here.

The scope of the recommendations cover issues of competition and protecting diversity in the media, issues of critical importance but beyond the usual coverage of this publication.

Relevantly, for this site, is the recommendations for more privacy protections. That includes Read the rest of this entry »

Equifax settles its 2017 data breach with the Federal Trade Commission for at least $575 million

July 22, 2019

It is something of a myth that there is no privacy and data protection regulation in the United States.   In the United States privacy and data protection in certain sectors, such as health and finance, is the subject of comprehensive regulation and the authorities are not afraid to enforce the law.  Another area of strong regulation is consumer protection with the Federal Trade Commission using its powers to litigate, enter into onerous and long term enforceable undertakings and levying heavy fines for breaches.

The most recent example of the FTC wielding the very big regulatory stick is its proposed settlement with Equifax to settle its complaint regarding its 2017 data breach which affected approximately 147 million people. The FTC brought a formal complaint in the US District Court. As is common the FTC alleged a misrepresentation as to protecting privacy, providing security and confidentiality of personal information.

Today in a 74 page proposed settlement Equifax has agreed to a judgment being entered against it in the sum of $425 million.   Of that $300 million will Read the rest of this entry »

Commonwealth Bank enters into an enforceable undertaking with the Australian Information Commissioner. A weak and ineffective regulatory response to serious data breaches.

July 2, 2019

On 27 June the relatively new Information Commissioner signed off on an enforceable undertaking with the Commonwealth Australia Bank arising out of 2 data breaches, the first involving the loss of 2 magnetic data tape containing what the Information Commissioner customer statements relating to 20 million customers in 2016.  The CBA was not able to work out whether the records were destroyed or something else came of them.  The second breach arose in August 2018 with sensitive information being available to those who were not able to access that material. This enforceable undertaking was entered into with the CBA already the subject of a very critical APRA report on the CBA’s risk management and reactive approach to compliance.  The CBA entered into a enforceable undertaking from the CBA in early May 2018.  And yet the CBA was involved in a second data breach 3 months later, in August 2018.  What does that say about CBA’s commitment to risk management?

There is a contrast in styles between the Information Commissioner’s media release and that of the Bank.

The Commissioner’s media release reads Read the rest of this entry »

Jeremy Lee v Superior Wood Pty Ltd[2019] FWCFB 2946; Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission considering breach of the Privacy Act, biometric data, unfair dismissal

July 1, 2019

The Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission recently handed down a very important decision in Lee v Superior Wood Pty Ltd [2019] FWCFB 2946 regarding the application of the Privacy Act. The Full Bench undertook a careful analysis of the Act and applied the Australian Privacy Principles (the APPs) to the facts in the context of an unfair dismissal claim, in this case appeal from a Commissioner at first instance.

The Facts

Superior Wood operates two sawmills at Melawondi and Imbil [2] in Queensland. It had approximately 150 employees, 80 of whom, including Lee,working at the Imbil site. Lee was employed as a casual general hand and worked for  3 ¼ years. Superior Wood is Read the rest of this entry »

Tim Cook’s Commencement address at Stanford puts privacy front and centre of the current technology debate

June 24, 2019

Amongst the big 4 tech giants in their own given areas, Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Apple, Apple has made the strongest public stand on protecting its users privacy.  It too a stand as a civil rights issue in protecting privacy when in in 2016 when it refused to assist the FBI in in cracking a password on an iphone owned by a terrorist.  That included fighting the FBI in the Federal Court.

Facebook’s recent pivot to a privacy friendly future with the statement A Privacy-Focused Vision for Social Networking in March has been treated with some scepticism when the Guardian recently reported that Zuckerberg knew of poor privacy practices associated with the Cambridge Analytica scandal.  The evidence, emails uncovered by the Federal Trade Commission in its investigation as to whether Facebook has breached a 20 year consent decree, which it almost certainly has.  Facebook has reportedly set aside $3 billion in anticipation of a record fine from the FTC though the figure could be as high as $5 billion.  Today Facebook through Read the rest of this entry »