Thursday, November 3, 2016

Consumers need greater rights to private data, Productivity Commission urges

Australian laws regulating access to personal private data are out of date and need to be overhauled to get in line with the digital age, according to a report out today.

The Productivity Commission says a move to mandate unrestricted access to private data is in the national interest and wants the government to introduce legislation to force government agencies and the private sector to share private information.

Read the Productivity Commission report

Under the proposed reforms, consumers could demand access to private data held by banks, GPS providers, insurer companies, doctors, health insurers and social media giants like Facebook.

In a world is rocked by digital disruption and a deluge of private data being held by governments and private companies, the Commission points to a data overhaul as top ten economic reform to the Australian economy.

Listen to the full interview with Productivity Commission chairman Peter Harris

While existing privacy laws would remain in place, the draft report says greater data sharing would create better competition, allow consumers to know more about their digital lives and maybe even get a better deal with a bank or on their power bills.

The Commission is proposing greater data access rights for consumers with the creation of a "Comprehensive Right" which would also include a greater ability for people to opt out of data collection activities.

Productivity Commission chairman Peter Harris told The World Today that while data is a major asset to Australia's economy, consumers currently have limited rights on accessing and levering their own personal information.

"Surprising though it may be to many, individuals have no rights to ownership of the data that is collected about them," Mr Harris said.

"Data is increasingly an asset, and when you create an asset you should have the ability to use it, or not, at your choice."

The data law reforms would give consumers the right to direct government agencies and private companies to transfer their information to a third party as part of a major shift in competition policy.

The Commission says the transfer of data would help consumers strike a better deal by making sectors such as financial services and energy utilities compete for business.

"This will give people and businesses who want to be active consumers genuine control over their data and will allow innovative businesses and governments the chance to offer those consumers better services," Mr Harris said.

The report also points to greater opportunities for improved health care, safer and more efficient infrastructure and machinery maintenance through "data driven" competition.

However the report warns it is a misconception that cyber risks will be limited if consumers continue to be denied access to their personal data.

"The risks from the proposed reforms are no greater than the risks today that are managed by any consumer who chooses to click a mouse and buy or subscribe to a product," Mr Harris said.

"And the same advice applies: be very choosey about who you share your data with."

The Commission warns Australia is "rapidly falling behind" other developed economies like the UK, US and New Zealand in reforming data access laws.

The proposed reforms are likely to be opposed by government agencies and private companies.

The Commission is calling for submissions and will hold public hearings on the proposed reforms later this month.

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