The changes to the Privacy Act 1988 on 12 March included a new set of Australian Privacy Principles (APPs) which set out how private sector organisations and federal Australian government agencies must handle people's personal information.
"Privacy is often associated with secrecy. However, the new APPs aim to build organisational cultures that respect privacy while ensuring greater openness about the handling of personal information," said the Australian Information Commissioner, John McMillan, who spoke today at the CeBIT business technology conference in Sydney.
"The OAIC's community attitudes to privacy research shows that 95 percent of Australians want to know how their information is handled," said McMillan. "However, we also know that most people don't read privacy policies because they are too long and complex.
"The challenge for organisations and agencies is to develop privacy policies that allow individuals to make informed decisions about their privacy," he said.
For McMillan, one of the more thorny privacy issues in Australia right now is non-content telecommunications data — or metadata — and how it should be handled by government and private organisations.
In his presentation at CeBIT, McMillan said that metadata should be considered personal information and should be treated as such by national privacy laws.
According to McMillan, metadata can be used to identify individuals and their activities and, as such, should be considered personal information.
"Personal information is any information that can reasonably identify a person. Of course, there is another category can be thought of as personal information and that is metadata," said McMillan.
McMillan's comments came only weeks after Greens senator Scott Ludlam chaired a series of hearings to determine how metadata should be dealt with as part of his inquiry into the revision of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act.
McMillan also said that Australia was lagging behind its international peers when it comes to the adoption of an open data policy and transparency in government about how public data is used.
"There have been steps in the UK to move to a more open data policy, but at the moment, Australia lags behind other countries. This was recognised by the Productivity Commission in its annual report," said McMillan.
"The principle that open access should be the default is mirrored in places like the US. Data sets that the government hold are a national asset and should be used for public good," he said.