Feds promise 'sector-by-sector' data rights, more data reforms in a few weeks

By Stephen Easton

November 27, 2017

The federal government will give all Australians a “consumer data right” that means companies like banks, utilities, and internet providers have to give them open access to some of their account data.

Angus Taylor, the Assistant Minister for Digital Transformation, described it as “the biggest reform to consumer law in a generation” in a statement, and says easier access to information will make it easier for consumers to switch to a better deal.

“Government is pursuing the very simple idea that the customer should own their own data. It is a powerful idea and a very important one,” Taylor said.

“Australians have been missing out because it’s too hard to switch to something better. You may be able to access your recent banking transactions, or compare this quarter’s energy bill to the last, but it sure isn’t quick or easy to work out if you can get a better deal elsewhere.”

“It won’t be far down the track when you can simply tap your smartphone to switch from one bank to another, to a cheaper internet plan, or between energy companies. Government is lifting the lid on competition in consumer services and technology is the enabler.”

The new rights will not apply all at once across the board, according to Taylor’s statement. It will be “established sector-by-sector, beginning in the banking, energy and telecommunications sectors”, building on the government’s August agreement with electricity retailers, and Treasury’s open banking review.

Utility companies will have to provide the information in a “standard, comparable, easy-to-read” format under the legislation, which will be introduced next year.

In May, the Productivity Commission called for new “comprehensive” rights to “view, request edits or corrections, and be advised of the trade to third parties of consumer information held on them” as well as to “have a machine-readable copy of their consumer data provided either to them or directly to a nominated third party, such as a new service provider.”

The PC also proposed a new law governing “data sharing and release” and a “National Data Custodian to guide and monitor new access and use arrangements, including proactively managing risks and broader ethical considerations around data use” among a suite of 41 recommendations around national data governance.

A cross-agency taskforce working out of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet is preparing a full response, which Taylor said would be published in “coming weeks”.

The group includes representatives from: PM&C; Social Services; Human Services; Finance; Industry, Innovation and Science; the Attorney General’s Department; the Australian Bureau of Statistics; the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare; the Digital Transformation Agency; the Australian Public Service Commission; the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner; and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

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