​Former ACCC head to chair Australian data governance body

A new industry body, Data Governance Australia, has launched to provide standards on data collection, storage, and usage within the country.

Former Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chairman Graeme Samuel will head the newly established Data Governance Australia (DGA), an independent body tasked with establishing industry standards around data.

Speaking at the DGA launch in Melbourne on Tuesday, Samuel said that government should only step in to regulate where businesses have failed to do so themselves and said setting industry standards for the use, collection, and application of data is something that cannot be avoided much longer.

"The best form of regulation is one that industry can develop for itself to meet current community expectations and importantly to anticipate community expectations into the future," he said.

"The role of governments and regulators tends to be retrospective, tends to be a reaction to what has happened or what has been highlighted often in hysterical terms."

What Samuel intends to do with the new industry body is cut down the often two-year time frame legislation tends to take when government steps in.

"Governments launch an enquiry, the enquiry itself takes 12 months, then after that the governments consider the enquiry report, then legislation or regulation is drafted, and then two years after the event, the community expectations are met by government regulation," he said. "That's too long."

DGA will remain a not-for-profit organisation and will operate alongside its sister associations Australian Direct Marketing Association (ADMA); AIMIA, the industry body for interactive content and digital media in Australia; and the Institute of Analytics Professionals of Australia (IAPA), which all operate as separate associations.

Samuel will be joined by 12 founding board members including: Thomas Dobson, head of marketing planning & performance at NAB; Leif Evensen, general manager business performance & analytics at Westpac; Adam Story, general manager at Flybuys, Loyalty & CRM Coles; Ingrid Maes, director loyalty & customer data at Woolworths; David Rohan, general manager of loyalty analytics for Qantas Loyalty; and Paul McCarney, co-founder and CEO of Sydney data startup, Data Republic.

Earlier this year, Samuel said the term metadata caught the attention of the general public, noting that despite the fact that most consumers did not know what metadata was, they were concerned about it.

Under Australia's data-retention laws, passed in March last year with the backing of the ruling Coalition and notional opposition Labor party, approved law-enforcement agencies are able to warrantlessly access two years' worth of customers' call records, location information, IP addresses, billing information, and other data stored by telcos.

Similarly, the pre-Census discussions around the collection and storage duration of data collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) earlier this year was the first Samuel can recall where the public vocalised concerns about the ABS keeping their data.

"For the first time we had a concern about privacy issues about the data being collected by the Census," he said. "You say to yourself, if only we could deal with those issues rather than having the community be concerned about it; if we could deal with those issues in advance and subdue community concerns by saying we've dealt with it."

To combat this, Samuel said the DGA will develop a code of conduct that declares Australian standards for the use, collection, and application of data.

"They're important to business in terms of innovation, they're important to business in terms of the development of businesses, and they're important to consumers in ensuring that data collection and data use is not misused or misapplied," Samuel said.

"What we intend to do is develop a code of conduct which has compliance regimes associated with it and that code of conduct will be authorised by the ACCC and it will be a code of conduct that will set standards overlaid with the words integrity, transparency, accountability, and credibility.

"Most importantly what they will do is they will meet current community expectations and have sufficient flexibility on how to adapt to changing community expectations as they do adapt because data is development and innovation is racing ahead, long ahead of what I think any of us can possibly imagine."

Samuel said the DGA will also assist businesses to assess their ability to comply with the impending standards.

Through something akin to what the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner has set as a privacy impact assessment in Australia, Samuel expects the DGA will also develop an internal audit guide of the way an organisation is to deal with privacy issues.

"We're already putting submissions to the Productivity Commission on the current inquiry into access of data and that's going to be very important as well to ensuring that government understands this is a body that embraces the sector in the broadest possible terms," Samuel said.

"We want to achieve a regulatory environment that is self-regulated; we want to achieve a regulatory environment that is credible, that stands the absolute test of integrity, and the absolute test -- the consumer test -- of meeting consumer expectations."

The Australian Productivity Commission will report next year on the benefits and costs of improving the availability and use of data in both the private and public sectors.

Similarly, the Queensland government will begin discussions on a new state Open Data Policy on Wednesday, when it kicks off its first engagement with local businesses, startups, and members of the community.

In partnership with Open Data Institute Queensland, Minister for Innovation and Digital Economy Leeanne Enoch said the goal of the policy was to improve access to free, accurate, accessible, and well-managed Open Data to encourage the growth of new and innovative creative services, projects, and businesses in Queensland.

"The Open Data Policy will ensure data is more accessible, and of a higher quality, with improved standards, management practices, and efficiency," she said. "By sharing information through Open Data, we will support the development of the next big ideas, businesses, digital innovations, services, and research."

Enoch expects the consultations and feedback exercises will shape the upcoming data policy.