I was at a meeting with the heads of a group of organisations which have asked for a briefing on the impact of the Government’s national security bill on the ability of companies to share information, including data on their customers.
I was not expecting much more than a polite discussion of what the Government wants to do about this.
But then I was surprised to hear from a senior member of the group, that a major technology company was preparing to go public with details of their data protection obligations.
I had never heard of such a situation.
What’s wrong with that?
I asked the chairman, who did not want to be named, if the Government had a clear position on the bill.
“We’re not in a position to give you an answer to that,” he replied.
I then asked about what it was about the bill that worried the group.
“What is your concern about the privacy of our customers?”
The chairman said it was the Government.
What is your issue?
The Chairman: We don’t have any privacy issues.
We just want a clear policy on privacy that will protect our customers.
The Australian Information Commissioner: I think it is a matter for the Privacy Commissioner.
I have no doubt that the Government will make a case for a strong, secure and fair approach to protecting privacy.
And yet, the group was asking me questions about what the bill would do to its customers’ privacy rights.
I don’t know what’s wrong about that.
In a similar situation, a group member from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) was also asked if there were any privacy problems with the Government, given that there was a lack of transparency on how the Government was planning to use the bill to justify the bill’s introduction.
“Are you aware of the situation with the National Broadband Network,” he said.
I didn’t know how the ATO had received any information from the Government about how the NBN would operate and be used.
I asked him what the ATP was planning, but I was told that there had been no briefing.
This is not the first time a group has approached me about their privacy concerns.
Earlier this year, the head of a company called BSkyB was also told by a senior Member of Parliament that the ATB had not been given any information about how it would operate in the context of the bill and that it would be “very difficult” for it to proceed with the deal.
These are not just issues with privacy.
We have an obligation to the Australian public to have a strong and transparent government.
So the question is: what’s the government doing?
I don’t think the government is doing anything to answer my questions about the impact on their privacy rights, which I’ve raised with them in the past.
They’re also telling me that their privacy legislation is about doing the right thing for the people of Australia.
Is that what the Prime Minister is trying to say?
In the end, I’m not going to be able to say with certainty that the government has changed its position.
But the fact that they are talking about privacy is a good sign that they’re listening.
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