Coalition ranked worst for privacy in election run-up

The Coalition has been rated bottom among the major parties on commitment to privacy issues, according to a report released by the Australian Privacy Foundation.
Written by Marcus Browne, Contributor

The Coalition has been rated bottom among the major parties on commitment to privacy issues, according to a report released by the Australian Privacy Foundation (APF).

The APF issued its Election Challenge initiative in July, asking the major parties to declare their positions on a number of privacy issues. "The government and alternative government continue to score very badly on privacy," said Roger Clarke, chair of the APF.

Clarke expressed particular concern over new legislation requiring enterprises to collect substantially more data on their customers at points of transaction, extending provisions placed on businesses and individuals beyond the existing 100 point identification check which is considered by the government to be a significant fraud deterrent.

"This is an expansion of the government's financial transactions reporting scheme, an initiative which has had almost no success in detecting fraud except for a couple of instances," Clarke told ZDNet Australia.

"It used to only be financial institutions that had to follow these measures, but what they've done with these latest changes is to expand the requirement well beyond these organisations to take in small businesses such as accountants, financial planners and real estate agents," he said.

The requirement is being introduced in a new piece of legislation -- the Anti Money Laundering and Counter Terrorism Financing Act -- which has received parliamentary approval and is in its final drafting stages.

Clarke also singled out the Opposition for not taking a committed stance on privacy issues after the survey ranked Labor only three points higher than the Coalition.

"It is extremely disappointing that the Labor party has not opposed the government's privacy intrusive laws," he said, adding that "the Australian public has to wonder whether a Labor government will continue to override basic rights to privacy and freedom of speech once in office."

Access Card issues

Clarke however said he approved of Labor MP Tanya Plibersek's sustained opposition to the government's proposed Access Card scheme.

"We are heartened that Labor continues to voice opposition to the Access Card proposal," he said.

The APF has led a campaign against the Access Card proposal since last year, shortly after the government initially floated the proposal.

"The whole scheme is completely misconceived," said Clarke. "What the government is trying to do here is to create a central register to consolidate data about every Australian, which I think is the real threat."

As part of its campaign against the Access Card the APF has designed a proposal for an alternative scheme using smartcard technology, which according to the organisation would enable similar benefits to the Access Card whilst sustaining existing privacy protection.

Clarke said that the government's proposal relies on having a single card with a single zone and identity attached to it, to be used for any number of services such as Medicare or Centrelink.

The APF has suggested that an individual's details can be compartmentalised within a single card so that relevant information can be made available on a limited basis to the organisation concerned.

"A smartcard is by definition capable of being smart," said Clarke. "It's possible to have separate zones on a single card ... so that individuals maintain a separate number for each service."

Yesterday's report stated that the APF is not "party partisan" despite awarding higher ratings to both the Greens and the Democrats -- a result based largely on the fact that both parties responded to all of the APF's enquiries.

Clarke said that while the APF is not in the business of making recommendations on how people vote, "people need to be aware of the Coalition's appalling record and Labor's inadequate position on privacy matters."

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