Privacy lock down urged for small business

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Small businesses previously exempt from local privacy legislation have until the third week of December to make their business practices comply with Federal law, the Privacy Commissioner has warned.

The Federal Privacy Commission is readying for a last minute rush of enquiries from small business owners that have not yet made any preparations for the introduction of the law, and who will fall under the Privacy Act from December 21.

The new privacy laws, which were enacted in 2000, have so far only been applied to companies with annual revenues of more than $3 million - or certain classifications of small business in the healthcare and fitness sectors.

The commission is preparing to launch a nationwide campaign targeting small business associations to ensure that the small business community are aware of their obligations.

A spokesman for the Federal Privacy Commissioner Malcolm Compton said smaller firms engaged in web-based marketing activities in particular would come under the Act's scrutiny, although the law equally applied to any company that shared personal information in the course of doing business.

"In some cases, there are companies that are going to have a lot of work to do," the Privacy Commission spokesman said.

"But there will be a lot - like retail shops or wholesalers - that will have little or no work to do, although they should be aware (of the law)," he said.

S2 Intelligence research director Bruce McCabe said the law would not have any application for the vast majority of small businesses. But those companies engaged in activities like web-based marketing would be required in many cases to make major changes to business practices.

McCabe welcomed the laws' introduction, saying that anything that helped install public confidence in on-line systems and regulation was a good thing.

Too many potential users shied away from online services because they did not trust the service operators, and had no faith in privacy legislation to protect their interests.

"I'm a big believer in privacy legislation," McCabe said. "It's important, and anything that is going to encourage online commerce has got to be a good thing."

While approving of the extension of the Privacy Act to cover small business, McCabe "doubted the (Privacy) Commission's willingness to enforce and to prosecute"

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