COVID-19 has highlighted privacy and transparency issues

Tuesday, 20 October, 2020

COVID-19 has highlighted privacy and transparency issues

The COVID-19 pandemic has focused attention on privacy and created opportunities for greater transparency through the proactive release of government information, according to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner’s (OAIC) 2019–20 annual report.

Australian Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk said the OAIC’s work in relation to COVID-19 has strengthened privacy safeguards and accountability for the community.

Falk added that the OAIC has increased the number of privacy complaints investigated and Information Commissioner reviews finalised over the past year. The OAIC is also supporting Australia’s response and recovery through its role in overseeing the privacy safeguards built into the COVIDSafe app and by providing advice and guidance to the government, businesses and the community on privacy and information access issues arising in the pandemic.

The OAIC is also working to enhance personal information security across the economy, through the Notifiable Data Breaches scheme and the implementation of the Consumer Data Right. Additionally, the OAIC has joined with its international, state and territory counterparts to exchange information to strengthen its guidance and regulatory activities.

“Our efforts to build trust and confidence in the protection of personal information and access to government-held information span a range of compliance, engagement, advisory and education activities,” said Falk.

Falk said the proactive and real-time release of government-held information has been critical in the pandemic response.

“The examples of proactive publication and privacy by design during this period set an encouraging precedent for the future of information management,” said Falk.

The OAIC’s annual report also highlights its success in addressing a backlog of privacy cases created by sustained increases in complaints over recent years. The OAIC continues to enhance processes in its FOI area, having finalised 829 Information Commissioner reviews during the reporting period; a 26% improvement compared to 2018–19.

“Through a comprehensive review of our structures, systems and processes supported by additional funding, we resolved a backlog of complex and aged privacy complaints, which contributed to my office closing 3366 privacy complaints during the financial year, up 15% on 2018–19,” said Falk.

In 2019–20, the OAIC launched its first privacy civil penalty action, following an investigation that included cooperation with international authorities. The Commissioner filed proceedings against Facebook Inc and Facebook Ireland in the Federal Court of Australia.

“In operating as a contemporary regulator, our regulatory posture and approach is evidence-based, proportionate and seeks to respond to community expectations in addressing risk,” said Falk.

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