Australian privacy regime leads world but 17-year-old girls lead by example: expert

Australia’s pragmatic privacy legislation is “the gold standard” for world privacy legislation even when compared with the European Union’s long-established privacy regime, a US-based privacy expert has concluded – while advising privacy-conscious executives to make employees think like high-school girls if they really want to guarantee data integrity.

“Australia really is the gold standard rather than the European Union,” McAfee global chief privacy officer Michelle Dennedy told CSO Australia during a flying visit to Australia during this week’s Privacy Awareness Week commemorations.

“There’s a lot of movement going on, legally and technologically, now more than any time in my career,” she explained. “Australia – and, I’d say, Canada as well – have taken a much more pragmatic approach than in the EU, which is having a lot of trouble with control and harmony of regulations.”

“The EU have made it really complex, and have made these standards that cannot be matched by today’s technology nor its culture,” Dennedy explained. “They kind of defied the world to be mobile, and defied the world not to be social, when all of that is booming.”

“Australia recognises that people are going to be online, and that there will be businesses that deal with different places geographically – and it is advising companies and governments how to deal with customers and citizens when there are all these cloud services available.”

The open discussion being held in Australia around privacy had been successfully driven by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC), Timothy Pilgrim, which commemorated Privacy Awareness Week by noting that security breaches were frequently linked to privacy violations and launching a guide to significantly overhauled privacy legislation that will come into effect in March 2014.

With the Australian government reportedly considering legislation mandating reporting of data breaches, Dennedy said the OAIC is going to play an increasingly important role in helping transition Australian organisations – 59% of which, a recent survey suggested, are unaware of the new privacy regime’s changed requirements.

“The new standards in Australia are reasonable,” she said. “If you’ve documented how you’ve done your risk assessment plan, and you’ve shown how your metrics are, I guarantee you that you’ll have a much different conversation with Timothy Pilgrim’s office than if you just say ‘it’s too hard and who cares about privacy anyway’.”

To successfully transition to the new arrangements, Dennedy said, top-down policy mandates can only go so far. Instead, business executives need to consider the things that actually motivate people to keep secrets – and follow the guidance of what are probably the most secretive people any of us know: our children.

Although many teenagers consistently show lack of judgment when it comes to deciding what information to post and not post online, Dennedy said, when it comes to big secrets – such as confessing a romantic interest in someone – most teenagers’ lips remain tightly sealed.

“Children are self-selecting their online persona, and protecting their data from populations they don’t want to know it,” she explained. “As a parent I hate that, but I secretly love it too. If I was a business executive and could get all my employees to act like a 17-year-old girl with a crush on a football player, I would have a very safe environment indeed.”

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