Privacy guidelines not enough to prevent data breaches: Law lecturer

Australian privacy watchdog needed to prevent more Medvet data leaks, another Sony hack

To prevent online privacy breaches Australia needs a privacy watchdog rather than merely guidelines, a law lecturer has argued.

In an article at University of Canberra law lecturer, Bruce Arnold, argues the high number of data leaks happening in Australia and overseas shows that the government must step up and move beyond privacy guidelines.

“Australia needs a privacy watchdog that is quick to act, a watchdog that, like its overseas counterparts in the UK and US, is equipped with the sort of financial penalties that get the attention of executives,” Arnold wrote.

“Shaming is not enough: where there is improper sharing we need real punishment to stop future problems.”

Using the example of the South Australia-based paternity and drug-testing laboratory, Medvet which last month experienced an online software error that caused the details of 800 patients’ delivery addresses to be visible online, Arnold claimed such organisations must take their privacy responsibilities more seriously.

“The incident shows we need stronger privacy law and meaningful enforcement,” Arnold wrote. “We also need a cultural change, whereby institutions regard themselves as data custodians rather than data owners and therefore take their responsibilities more seriously.”

Arnold agreed with Clearswift’s Phil Vasic that the Sony hacks showed the need for data breach laws needing to be changed.

“Medvet has been unfortunate but there is no reason to believe that such a breach is exceptional,” Arnold wrote. “Other organisations – including universities, government agencies and multinational corporations with the very best information technology money can buy – have experienced unwanted exposure of “their” data, i.e. information about you, me and the people next door.”

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