E-privacy inquiry now in hands of Senate

The development of workable privacy legislation has swapped camps from the House of Representatives to the Senate, yet an outcome is still not expected until later this year.

Even worse, with the legislation not likely to be passed for several months, laws will not become effective until late 2001 or early 2002, suggested Tim Dixon, chairman of the Australia Privacy Foundation.

Early last week, the Senate Select Committee on Information Technologies announced it is undertaking an inquiry into e-privacy.

The inquiry follows a similar study conducted by the House of Representatives just three months ago, Dixon said.

Senator Mark Bishop, parliamentary secretary for communications and deputy chairman of the Select Committee on Information Technologies, said the decision to conduct the inquiry was a committee-driven choice.

"It's a make-work exercise by the committee without any industry consultation and participation," Bishop said.

"The aim to is investigate the implications of the creation of huge databases by a range of companies in Australia and overseas."

According to Bishop, the inquiry will examine the privacy implications of selling material, aggregating material and accumulating material in an online environment.

The protection of consumer information obtained through such electronic transactions and stored on databases will be investigated.

Dixon said that although many submissions for the Senate inquiry are likely to be similar to submissions evaluated by the House of Representatives, he believes the Senate has a "significant chance" at looking at the issue and legislation "sensibly".

"What the government has proposed is quite inadequate," Dixon said, adding that it fails to address business and consumer concerns as well as take into account privacy work conducted by international governments and organisations.

"It's an incredibly badly designed law," he said.

Dixon said Australia is already behind the eight ball on privacy issues and risks being left behind.

"Privacy is quite central to the development of the information economy and the uptake of e-commerce," Dixon said. He also cited research from US-based Forrester Research, which revealed that $US2.8 billion in US e-commerce revenue has been lost as a result of privacy concerns.

According to Dixon, the Australian Privacy Foundation plans to submit its view to the Senate committee on the matter. Submissions from the public close on July 28.

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