Federal data sharing laws in virus limbo

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Federal data sharing laws in virus limbo

Last round of consultations paused.

Sweeping new data sharing laws proposed by the federal government have stalled due to COVID-19, with the Office of the National Data Commissioner unable to finish consultations.

In an update on Wednesday, national data commissioner Deborah Anton said the last round of Data Availability and Transparency Bill consultations would be rescheduled in the wake of the pandemic.

“We had hoped to consult on an exposure draft of the Data Availability and Transparency Bill in the first half of 2020, though this will now not be possible,” Anton said.

“We will provide advice on updated time frames when we are able.”

The bill, which was slated to be introduced to Parliament before July, is expected to unlock public sector data for sharing with “trusted” government agencies and academics.

It is the result of almost two years of work by the Office of the National Data Commissioner and follows the 2018 Productivity Commission report into data availability and use.

But with Parliament recalled last month in response to the pandemic, even if the legislation was ready to be introduced, it is unlikely to progress before Parliament resumes in August.

The proposed laws will overwrite 500 data secrecy and confidentiality provisions in existing legislation, with no requirement for agencies to gain consent from individuals before data is shared.

However, data will only to be released if it is related to improving policy, program evaluation, service delivery and research and development.

The government has previously ruled out using the proposed laws for compliance and assurance purposes to avoid another robodebt.

Despite the setback, Anton said the Office of the National Data Commissioner would continue to “progress the Data Availability and Transparency legislation”.

She also said the office had recently released a ‘legislation agnostic’ draft sharing agreement template, which will help agencies to share data in a “safe, timely and transparent” way.

“The Office of the National Data Commissioner is keen to hear your feedback on the template,” she told agencies.

“We will use this feedback to improve the agreement, and also how we design the data sharing agreement template to be used with the legislation.”

Last month, Australian statistician David Gruen said the proposed laws would allow agencies to exercise their own judgement with data, giving the power to veto data requests from other agencies and trusted third-parties.

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