Bill giving government the nod to share data enters Parliament


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Image: Asha Barbaschow/ZDNet

The federal government is hoping to “modernise” and “streamline” its use of the data it holds as well as set guidelines on how it shares that data between agencies and with the private and research sectors.

The data reforms presented in the Data Availability and Transparency Bill 2020 are touted by Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert as an opportunity to establish a new framework that is able to proactively assist in designing better services and policies.

The Bill, as well as the Data Availability and Transparency (Consequential Amendments) Bill, were both introduced to Parliament on Wednesday, after two years of consultation.

The government initially announced its intentions to introduce the Data Availability and Transparency Act (DATA) in May 2018 when it stood up the Office of the National Data Commissioner (NDC) to draft the legislation in response to the 2016 Productivity Commission Data Availability and Use report. The Australian government was hoping to introduce the Act by June 3, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic affecting its timeline, consultation on an exposure draft of the Bill did not go ahead. 

The government in 2018 also pledged AU$65 million to “reform” the Australian data system, with the National Data Advisory Council then being established the following year to provide advice to the NDC on ethical data use, community expectations, technical best practice, and industry and international developments.

The new Bill, in a nutshell, creates a scheme of controlled access to public sector data.

Under the legislation, data would only be shared for three purposes: Government services delivery, informing government policy and programs, and research and development.

In a discussion paper in September 2019, the federal government tweaked what it proposed the year prior by removing a fundamental element of privacy — consent.

The government’s position on consent has since become more nuanced, with the Bill introduced to the House stating that any sharing of personal information is to be done with the consent of the individuals, unless it is unreasonable or impracticable.

Attention is now on developing the “next layers of materials to support the Bill”, National Data Commissioner Deborah Anton said this week, including the regulations to be tabled once the Bill has passed Parliament.  

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Amendment Bill 2020, meanwhile, passed both Houses on Wednesday. 

It implements the government’s response to the report of the PJCIS into ASIO’s questioning and detention powers by amending the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979 in relation to compulsory questioning powers and tracking devices.

It also amends four Acts to make consequential amendments; and makes amendments contingent on the commencement of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Act 2020.

An advisory report was handed down by the PJCIS earlier this month, which recommended the passage of the Bill, following the removal of ASIO’s capability to use a tracking device without an internal authorisation.

The Intelligence Oversight and Other Legislation Amendment (Integrity Measures) Bill 2020, which implements the government’s decision to extend the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security’s (IGIS) jurisdiction to the intelligence functions of ACIC and Austrac, not just ASIO, also entered the House on Wednesday.

The legislation mandating an Australian News Media Bargaining Code also entered the House of Representatives this week, as did the Security Legislation Amendment (Critical Infrastructure) Bill 2020, which was labelled as a significant step in the protection of critical infrastructure and essential services that Australians rely upon by Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton. 

The Australian government on December 3 also put forward its Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2020 that would hand the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission three new warrants for dealing with online crime.  

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