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Privacy Commissioner concerned over gaps in privacy laws



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November TylFrid

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X Privacy Commissioner concerned

over gaps in privacy laws

Databases containing personal information on housing tenants are increasingly being used by the real estate industry and highlight crucial gaps in the coverage of privacy laws, according to the Federal Privacy Commissioner, Mr Kevin O’Connor.

Following the tabling in Parliament today of his eighth Annual Report on the operation of the Federal Privacy Act, Mr O’Connor stated that many sensitive information-gathering practices, such as tenancy databases, currently fall outside the jurisdiction of the Act.

“Tenancy databases record information about a person’s tenancy arrangements and history, as well as any defaults in payment of rent. Anyone who subscribes to these databases has ready access to this information. It is not clear whether the tenants have any knowledge or control over the information gathered on them.

“Bearing such cases in mind, I welcome the Federal Attorney-General's recent commitment to developing a comprehensive privacy regime in the private sector. I also welcome his goal of developing legislation for introduction next year.

“I believe Australians expect a commitment from both private organisations and government departments to ensure that their personal information is respected and protected,” he said.

Mr O’Connor said that in the last year his office had received over 13,000 enquiries, however many concerned privacy issues not covered by the Federal Privacy Act. These included optical and aural surveillance of employees in the workplace, direct marketing programs, medical records and the collection of extensive personal information by insurance companies and other corporations.

The report also discusses new developments in the electronic recording and transfer of health information, the privacy implications of on-line services and international privacy developments which impact on Australian business operations.

The Commissioner reported that die overall level of compliance with the Privacy Act by Commonwealdi agencies and the credit reporting industry continued to improve.

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For further information please contact: Margie Cook, Public Affairs Manager, (02) 284 9677, 015 672 630 James Iliffe, (02) 9284 9618