COVID-19 has demonstrated the importance of the right to privacy and the need for transparency from government and data collectors, according to the information and privacy regulator who this week again pushed for a regulatory approach more suitable to the digital age.

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner will focus on online privacy, information access rights, the proactive release of government held information and a “contemporary approach” to regulation over the next four years, according to its Corporate Plan, released on Monday.

The Federal Government has already committed to reviewing the Australian Privacy Act, legislation which critics say is outdated and being exploited or ignored by online information collection practices.

Australia’s Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner says it is an opportunity to ensure Australia’s regulatory framework can better respond in the digital age.

“We are focused on action that increases individuals’ ability to manage their privacy choices and

exercise control, and enhances the accountability of regulated entities,” Falk writes in the OAIC Corporate Plan foreword.

“This underpins not only our approach to privacy reform, but to regulating and enforcing existing privacy protections.”

Falk says the regulator will be informed in its approach by international markets and promote a “globally interoperable” regulatory approach, a possible reference to the EU and UK where tougher regulations have been rolled out to combat rampant data collection and misuse.

Reform

The OAIC plan states its approach to reform is influenced by four key elements: global interoperability; enabling privacy self-management; ensuring organisational accountability, with sufficient obligations built into the system; and a contemporary approach to regulation providing the right tools to regulate in line with community expectations.

The regulator says it will provide policy advice to the government with the goal of “achieving a framework that is fit for purpose in the digital age” through key focus areas.

Firstly the regulator will Influence development of privacy policy and legislation by working with other regulators, government, entities and civil society, with the goal of a legislation and policy that is globally interoperable and addresses risks to online privacy.

The OAIC will also develop a code of practice for digital platforms like Facebook and Google this year – one of the outcomes of the landmark Digital Platforms Inquiry – as well as providing support over the next three years and begin enforcement from 2022-23.

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