The commonwealth government released a discussion paper outlining its vision for data sharing between government agencies, and the release of data to the public. Submissions are now open and the government is seeking stakeholder input on how to “modernise” the way it shares data.

Under the government’s proposed framework, which it compares to the private sector’s Consumer Data Right, new legislation would override existing secrecy and confidentiality provisions, in order to allow data sharing – with some exceptions.

But, unlike the Consumer Data Right, it will not compel government agencies to share or release data. Agencies will only be encouraged to share data and parties must be accredited. Instances of data sharing also need to pass a “purpose test”. For data sharing use cases to pass it must be reasonably necessary to inform research and development; government policy; program design, implementation, and evaluation; and service delivery, under the proposed framework.

Source: the Office of the National Data Commissioner.

According to the discussion paper, “Government agencies will be responsible for deciding whether to use the legislation, only if they are satisfied data can be shared safely.”

Under the government’s proposed scheme, the Office of the National Data Commissioner, which currently oversees how public sector data is used and shared, would move from it current place within Prime Minister and Cabinet to becoming an independent statutory body with regulatory powers, and oversee the scheme.

The new regulator would be responsible for accrediting parties for data sharing.

The National Data Advisory Council, already established, would also advise the new regulator on ethical issues and striking a balance with citizen privacy.

Rationale

Government agencies already share some citizen data in a limited way –  like pre-filling a tax form – but behind the scenes it is usually a time consuming process. Canberra wants to expand the capability to improve services, inform funding decisions, and increase data access for accredited researchers, scientists and “innovators”.

“Currently, there is a labyrinth of over 500 separate privacy and secrecy provisions enacted over a century hindering our ability to share data to deliver the service Australians deserve,” said Minister for Government Services, Stuart Robert. “These reforms will ensure we keep pace with international standards and best practice when it comes to government service delivery.”

Off limits

According to an accompanying Privacy Impact Statement, prepared by private consultancy Galexia, data sharing by government agencies will be precluded in the cases of:

  • Commercial uses which infringe privacy or fair competition;
  • Compliance and assurance activities; and
  • National security and law enforcement activities.

The document does note, however, that the debate on the inclusion or exclusion of data sharing for compliance activities is ongoing.

Timeline

According to the discussion paper, the government began engagement on a data sharing framework last year, which led to today’s discussion paper and the beginning of a formal six week public consultation. By early next year the government plans to have drafted data sharing legislation and will conduct a further eight week consultation. The final legislation will be introduced to parliament by mid 2020, according to the government

The closing date for submissions is 5.00pm, 15 October 2019. The Office of the National Data Commissioner will consider requests for extensions to this closing date on a case by case basis.

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