Proposed changes to the Privacy Act that would shore up information security online and give the Privacy Commission greater enforcement powers, including the power to dish out hefty fines, have gone before parliament this week.
The proposed amendments are targeted at regulating the use of personal data for direct marketing, and will afford greater privacy protections to sensitive health and biometric data, according to Attorney-General Nicola Roxon.
The privacy commissioner will also receive new powers under the proposed legislation. Roxon said that the commissioner would be able to make determinations to "stop certain conduct", while allowing the commissioner to accept enforceable undertakings from organisations and order compensation as required.
Those caught infringing the Privacy Act may be liable for new civil penalties under the proposed legislation. Individuals can face fines of up to $220,000, while companies can face fines of up to $1.1 million. These hefty fines are designed to "encourage compliance with the Privacy Act", according to Roxon.
The amendments to the Privacy Act will also see changes in the way that a customer's credit history is reported.
Banks and financial institutions will get access to a streamlined credit-reporting process. This process will provide more accurate information about a person's accounts that have been opened and closed; give a greater insight into current credit limits, rather than the day-to-day balance of a card; and offer greater information around credit-repayment history, rather than simply displaying red flags when a payment was made late.
Roxon told the House of Representatives yesterday that the amendments will enable more families to access credit.
"These reforms will give the Australian finance and credit industry more information — with the appropriate privacy protections — so that they can make more accurate risk assessments. More information, which will need to be more up to date and accurate under this Bill, will assist both consumers and the credit-reporting industry," she told the House.
The legislation amendments would also see tighter rules around data sovereignty and the handling of personal information outside of Australia.
The legislative changes are being hailed by Roxon as the "most significant developments in privacy reform since Labor introduced the Privacy Act in 1988". She said that the legislation protections are in response to a world where more and more interactions take place on the internet.
"This Bill will bring Australia's privacy-protection framework into the modern era. Labor is protecting the privacy of working families. In an online world, we are increasingly sharing our personal information on social-networking sites, and paying our bills and buying footy tickets over the internet.
"While these technological changes bring immense benefits to working families, there are risks. That's why Labor is tightening up the rules around how companies and organisations can collect, use and disclose personal information," Roxon told the House.