Open data: Government to establish a ‘National Data Commissioner’

Unveils $65 million push to make more government data available

A new position of the ‘National Data Commissioner’ will be established as part of a $65 million, four-year open data push by the federal government.

The creation of the new position is part of the government’s response to the Productivity Commission inquiry into the availability and use of public and private data by individuals and organisations.

The government in November revealed that it would legislate a new Consumer Data Right as part of its response to the PC’s recommendations. The government said that this will allow individuals to access data relating to their banking, energy, phone and Internet usage, potentially making it easier to compare and switch between service providers.

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission will have oversight of the Consumer Data Right.

The government said today it would introduce a new data sharing and release framework to streamline the way government data is made available for use by researchers and public and private sector organisations.

The framework’s aim will be to promote the greater use of data and drive related economic and innovation benefits as well as to “Build trust with the Australian community about the government’s use of data”.

The government said it would push a risk-based approach to releasing publicly funded data sets.

The National Data Commissioner will be supported by a National Data Advisory Council. The council “will advise the National Data Commissioner on ethical data use, technical best practice, and industry and international developments.”

The commissioner will have a mandate to “unlock the productivity benefits of valuable datasets, identify opportunities for improved data use, and build national frameworks and guidelines”.

The government said that the commissioner will work with the Australian Privacy Commissioner to protect individuals’ privacy.

“Australia’s data is an important national resource which, when used correctly, can greatly assist consumers, researchers, government agencies and industry to better understand the world we live in and to make sound investment decisions based on evidence,” said a statement issued by human services minister Michael Keenan and assistant minister to the treasurer Michael Sukkar.

“But too often, the Productivity Commission found that unnecessary barriers to data access were stifling innovation, competition, development and even important research opportunities that could benefit the entire community.”

The new data sharing framework will help drive cultural change across government, boosting data sharing while “mitigating the risks associated with sharing of personal data.”

The government will establish a network of ‘Accredited Data Authorities’ that will act as hubs of expertise and be “catalysts for efficient and safe sharing and release of data.”

“Accredited Data Authorities will engage with data custodians and users on matters relating to data availability and use,” the government said.

The new system for data sharing and release will be introduced through a Data Sharing and Release Act.

“The Government will introduce laws underpinning a new system for data sharing and release in Australia,” the government’s response to the PC said. “This legislation will establish institutional and governance arrangements including Accredited Data Authorities and a trusted user framework to facilitate better sharing of data.”

A 2015 policy statement issued by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull deemed data held by the federal government to be a “strategic national resource”.

Privacy

Today’s announcement comes on the heels of the Australian Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner revealing in March that the Department of Health broke the law by releasing a range of supposedly de-identified health data.

In 2016 the department released some 1 billion lines of historical health data relating to around 3 million Australians. Security researchers subsequently found that they were able to re-identify some of the data.

The government responded by unveiling legislation to criminalise the re-identification of government data sets. Although the bill remains before the parliament, the Greens and Labor have indicated they are unlikely to support it.

The announcement also follows heightened concern over the data-gathering practices of a number of Internet business, particularly Facebook.

The government has established a dedicated website for its response to the PC.

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