Government Removes Small Business Exemption From Privacy Act

Everyday people walking about in a world described by streams of data.

Attorney-general Mark Dreyfus has announced that the government would remove a small business exemption from the Privacy Act, affecting around 2.3 million companies in Australia.

At the moment, businesses that turnover $3 million or less are exempt from the Act and have no obligation to keep personal information secure or to notify affected people if there is a data breach. The change to the legislation comes off the back of the ongoing Privacy Act review which kicked off earlier this year.

Dreyfus said that there would be a transition period to ensure that small businesses have a reasonable time to prepare for the changes.

“The Government will also work with the small business sector, as well as employer and employee representatives, on enhanced privacy protections for private sector employees and for small businesses,” he said, announcing the change.

The change to the Act, slated to come into force next year, would also see a new “fair and reasonable” test for information collection, irrespective of consent. This would cover the common situation of “box-ticking” a lengthy privacy statement.

An expanded definition of personal information would also be introduced, including cookie identifiers and IP addresses, where an individual might be “reasonably identifiable” even if they are not named.

“Australians increasingly rely on digital technologies for work, education, health care and daily commercial transactions and to connect with loved ones,” Dreyfus said.

“But when they are asked to hand over their personal data they rightly expect it will be protected.”

The changes to the bill would also include adding stronger options for children, including establishing a Children’s Online Privacy Code and making entities accountable for handling information, and destroying data when no longer needed.

There were 116 proposals contained in the review of the Act and Dreyfus said that the government agreed with most of them. In total, the government would look to put 36 of the review’s proposals into legislation, agreed in principle to 68 and “noted” 10 more.

Those “noted” proposals also included recommendations to allow people to opt out of personalised advertisements and to prevent political parties from targeting voters based on “sensitive information or traits”.

The proposal to allow users to opt out of personalised ads has proven particularly controversial as the broad definition of targeted adverts would also include exclusion lists currently used by companies to ensure that adverts for alcohol or gambling, for example, are not shown to vulnerable members of society.

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