Australia needs to play catch up in addressing how consumers can access and control data collected about them by business and government. That’s the view of the Productivity Commission, which is recommending a major overhaul of Australia’s data policy framework to give consumers more control of their data.

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A key recommendation of 652-page draft report released today is the introduction of a Comprehensive Right to give people more control over their data which would give consumers the right to direct data holders, in both the private or public sector, to transfer a copy of their information to a third party. The Productivity Commission noted the move is a big shift in competition policy, raising the question: who really owns data?

“Surprising though it may be to many, individuals have no rights to ownership of the data that is collected about them. Data is increasingly an asset, and when you create an asset you should have the ability to use it, or not, at your choice,” said Peter Harris, Productivity Commission Chair.

“We are proposing the creation of a Comprehensive Right to data control for consumers that would give people the right to access their data, and direct that it be sent to another party, such as a new doctor, insurance company or bank. Plus an expanded right for people to opt out of data-collecting activities. And existing privacy laws would all remain in place,” he said.

According to the research, Australia is rapidly falling behind other countries such as the UK and New Zealand in its use of data at the expense of areas such as health care, safer and more efficient infrastructure and machinery maintenance, enhanced supply chain logistics, and the development of more tailored, data-driven, financial and energy market products.

“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. It will increase competition, and give businesses and governments strong incentives to handle data better,” Harris said.

Industry Reaction

In response to the draft report Jodie Sangster, CEO of ADMA and Data Governance Australia highlighted concerns with the proposed Comprehensive Right of Access.

“This would require, amongst other things, an organisation to alert consumers if it intends to disclose or sell data to a third party. Furthermore, it would provide individuals with continued shared access with organisations, the ability to review for accuracy and the ability to appeal automated decisions,” Sangster said.

According to DGA, other critical recommendations impacting the private sector are how “customer data” is defined and data retention. Where government and private sector businesses work together, it is proposed that the government have the ability to maintain access to any data created in that partnership.

The Commission also recommends that certain databases be considered National Interest Datasets (NID) and therefore available for access. “Concerning is the suggestion that the government can also deem a private database to be a NID, and therefore require access,” Sangster said.

DGA is taking an active role working with the Productivity Commission throughout the submission process, in areas such as developing industry standards for data sharing.

“It was also proposed that the Privacy Commissioner and other agencies with expertise, should develop best practice guidelines for deidentification – another place where DGA intends to play a central role,” Sangster said.

“Importantly, the Commission’s recommendations also presented a huge step forward by it strongly advocating that an ‘open government’ approach to data. i.e. that government datasets being made more available for commercial use by organisations, thereby driving innovation. Of course, this recommendation came with a variety of safeguards to ensure that consumer protections are in place.”

Paul McCarney, CEO of Data Republic, told Which-50 he is pleased the Government has recommended a robust approach to data and has acknowledged Australia is falling behind in both productivity and social opportunities associated with the effective use of data.

“The focus on trust and empowering the consumer is key and we support reform to make data collection and use more transparent for consumers. We believe that when consumers are empowered by their data and understand how it is being collected and used, the private sector will have the opportunity to deliver more innovative services and experiences,” McCarney said.

“A transparent system will allow better utility and value to be delivered to consumers as a result of their own data.”

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The Productivity Commission has called for written submissions to the draft report by December 12, 2016. The final report and recommendations are expected to be handed to the government in March 2017.

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