The federal government has released a legislative package outlining its proposed data-sharing laws, in a bid to improve the delivery of public services.
Under the draft Data Availability and Transparency Bill, released for public feedback on Monday, data will be allowed to be shared for the purposes of delivering government services, informing government policy and programs, and research and development.
The consultation paper notes that government agencies have often taken a “black-and-white approach” to data access and use by keeping some data “closed” in-house, and making non-sensitive data “open” to the public.
“Reforms to data sharing can enable data to be as open as possible and as closed as necessary,” it states.
“We have heard from many stakeholders that some data has more value – including to the data custodians themselves – when it is able to be shared. There are also significant risks to the community when data is not shared … Closed data also keeps the Australian public in the dark about what the government does with the data it collects and holds.
“Releasing data openly, through data.gov.au or other websites, has economic and social benefits, as anyone can access and use this data to analyse, innovate, and develop tools that have public value.”
Government data sharing has also often occurred in an “ad hoc” manner, the paper says, and privacy and security risks must be addressed.
“Sharing is subject to legislative protections and the individual agencies’ interpretations of them. Often interpretations are not revisited as technology evolves and community expectations around reasonable use and reuse of data change,” it says.
“Modernising the safeguards and regulating the sharing space can enable Australians to benefit from better services, policies, programs, and research.”
Under the bill, entities must be accredited by the national data commissioner in order to have public sector data shared with or through them, and the commissioner will have the powers to assess, monitor and investigate organisations under the scheme.
Interim national data commissioner Deb Anton says it’s time to bring the outdated ways government shares information into the 21st century.
“Over the past 100 years, more than 500 different provisions limiting the use information held by government agencies have entered into federal law,” she says.
“Unfortunately, many of them are out of date thanks to advances in information technology that were not envisaged when they were first written. This prevents agencies from sharing information and coordinating efficiently to deliver better health, education and other important community and social services.”
The consultation paper sets out a risk management framework of data sharing principles which must be applied to data sharing projects under the scheme:
- Project principle — data is shared for an appropriate project or program of work,
- People principle — data is made available only to appropriate people who have the right training and skills,
- Setting principle — data is shared in an adequately controlled environment that is safe and secure,
- Data principle — appropriate protections are applied to the data,
- Outputs principle — outputs are as agreed and are appropriate for future use.
The bill precludes the sharing of data for national security and enforcement-related purposes, and excludes sharing that would infringe intellectual property rights or international agreements, and where intelligence agencies are involved.
It also excludes the sharing of operational data and evidence before courts, tribunals, and “certain agencies with oversight or integrity functions to protect the independence and confidentiality of their core functions”.
Some legislative provisions have also been excluded from the bill’s override to “preserve protections” around national security, as well as My Health Record data, COVIDSafe app data and more.
The public has been encouraged to read the exposure draft and make a submission by November 6.