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Aust law

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section heading icon     government agencies

This page highlights Australian and overseas privacy/data protection commissions and other government agencies concerned with privacy.  

It covers -

subsection heading icon     introduction

The shape of national and state/provincial privacy agencies within governments reflects the legislation in each jurisdiction. More broadly it reflects the extent to which competition policy, consumer protection, medical services or other agencies had embraced privacy concerns prior to the 1980s or 1990s when discrete privacy enactments were established in many advanced economies.

Typically, national regimes feature -

  • a privacy agency (often headed by a privacy commissioner and located within the justice ministry) concerned with application of the major legislation.
  • separate health services, medical research and other science bodies with a narrower ambit regarding research protocols (eg Australia's National Health & Medical Research Council) or privacy relating to medical services
  • agencies concerned with taxation, census & statistics or other government activities that impinge on privacy and administer legislation that features provisions for protection of privacy specific to those activities
  • bodies concerned with private sector data collection and handling, in particular agencies concerned with trade practices and consumer protection.

subsection heading icon     international

At the international level the major body is the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD). 

Arguably it has been more significant in driving privacy policy development than the United Nations, despite rhetoric in the latter organisation regarding privacy as a fundamental human right (eg at the December 2003 World Summit on the Information Society) and commitments such as the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

subsection heading icon     Australia

In contrast to the European Union, where business and government are actively implementing the EU Privacy Directive, and North America (where debate about privacy principles and practice is a major feature of discussion about how to keep on the crest of the digital wave) Australia still seems to be lost at sea when it comes to dealing with privacy in an online world.

In Australia the Commonwealth Privacy Commissioner, criticised for an apparent reluctance to facilitate a national policy that accommodates the concerns of our trading partners and that is not left behind, with only one paddle, by initiatives within NSW and other states.  Nearly three years after the first announcement, the Government is moving to establish the Commissioner as an agency independent of the Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission.

The National Office for the Information Economy (NOIE) provides a small number of links to privacy sites and documents. 

subsection heading icon     New Zealand

The New Zealand Privacy Commissioner is an independent statutory body. Its site provides information about the New Zealand legislation - considerably more advanced than the Australian equivalent - and practice in the shaky isles and overseas.

subsection heading icon     the EU

The European Commission's Directorate on Data Protection offers a point of entry into the maze of EU agencies concerned with privacy policy and administration.

The UK Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) operates under the 1984 Data Protection Act, undergoing large-scale amendment to reflect recent EU decisions. The EU Commission's privacy site includes links to other privacy/data protection agencies within the Union.

subsection heading icon     USA

Three starting points for government information are the

  • Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
  • Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
  • US National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA)

A perspective on the FTC's activity is provided by Stephen Hechter's 2000 paper (PDF) The FTC as Internet Privacy Norm Entrepreneur.

The Advisory Committee on Online Access & Security (ACOAS) of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released a 220 page Privacy Online: Fair Information Practices in the Electronic Marketplace report on consumer access to information collected by commercial websites and the security of that information.  

Coming after a spate of privacy breaches by bodies such as CDNow, DoubleClick, Amazon, and RealNetworks, it reflected the FTC's 1998 Privacy Online and 1999 Self-Regulation reports to Congress. 

Transcripts from the 1999 FTC workshop on online profiling are available. The NTIA produced a White Paper on  Privacy & the National Information Infrastructure.

subsection heading icon     Canada

In Canada the major agency is the federal Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC). Its site includes the federal legislation and reports.

The Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) has a more restricted ambit, dealing with complaints from people who believe they have been denied rights under the Access to Information Act, described in our censorship guide.

Most provinces have privacy commissioners. One of the more activist is the Ontario Information & Privacy Commissioner (OIPC).

subsection heading icon     Hong Kong

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Private Data (PCO) is here

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version of December 2003
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