Action urged on new privacy laws

Companies and commonwealth government agencies are being urged to take action now to avoid falling short of strict new privacy laws which come into force next March, 2014.

David Smith, partner at law firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth, said few businesses would currently comply with the new laws and could face penalties of up to $1.7 million if changes were not made in time. “These new laws have been coming for some time, but there has been a lengthy period of transition and what we saw in industry was that everybody put it to the back of their minds. We want to alert general counsel and business that now is the time for action to avoid serious fallout,” Mr Smith said.

The laws include strict new rules surrounding the collection and use of personal information provided by customers, as well as by contractors and suppliers.

“The changes will affect almost every business and organisation, particularly those with a customer focus including product and service suppliers, Commonwealth government agencies and the financial services sector,” Mr Smith said. “Also, anyone who sends personal information offshore for storage or processing, including using cloud computing, needs to assess the impact of the changes. Australian entities will face increased legal risk around these activities.”

Amongst nearly 250 pages of amendments, the laws mandate that organisations establish a privacy compliance program. They also raise new hurdles for direct marketing initiatives.

“The message from the Privacy Commissioner is loud and clear – he will not be taking a soft approach to enforcing these laws. To avoid being made a public example of, companies should review current business practices as soon as possible,” Mr Smith said.

He said the process was not difficult but required time and expertise.

“As a starting point we are recommending companies seek advice to conduct a privacy audit which identifies gaps between current operations and the new privacy requirements. From there, action can be taken to close any compliance issues ahead of the March cut-off date.

“This is not a trend that will disappear any time soon. The changes are in line with greater protection of an individual’s information globally, driven by advances in technology and data collection. In Australia, the message is privacy laws will be taken very seriously moving forward.”

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