The security implications of the new Australian data-sharing scheme

Reform to public data sharing may ease citizen services, but the proposal carries with it strong risks of data breaches and privacy violations.

Digital fingerprints are virtually connected. [tracking / identity / genetics / data privacy]
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Spurred on by the COVID-19 crisis, Australia looks set to have a new national scheme to reform how public sector data is shared. The goal is to have a ‘tell us once’ approach for accessing government services. “Australian people and businesses would be able to receive tailored information, advice, and services without having to waste time giving the same data to different agencies,” said Stuart Robert, minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and minister for Government Services, when introducing the draft bill in Parliament.

Robert pointed to the powerful lesson of COVID-19: that government data and digital services are critical to the nation. However, the government believes the country is operating in a tangled data sharing system where contradictory rules and inconsistent ways of sharing data is stifling this potential. “Data sharing will support us to develop simpler government services, saving Australians time by prefilling forms with information already provided to government,” he said.

Australia’s proposed data sharing scheme

The federal government wants this scheme to create a new path to enable data sharing between public sector agencies and departments, along with outside organisations such as universities and think tanks, which are currently blocked by existing laws. It stems from a 2017 Productivity Commission data-availability report and is intended to reform the system of data governance aiming to maximise the economic and social benefits of increased data use.

The bill is currently in Parliament; once it’s enacted, it will create the Data Availability and Transparency Act (DATA) scheme, overseen by the national data commissioner, who will be responsible for ensuring participants adhere to the safety and security requirements.

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