Thankyou to Senator Natasha Stott Despoja for permission to publish this article on Webdiary. Senator Stott Despoja is the Democrats' Senator for South Australia and Australian Democrats spokesperson for Attorney Generals. Thankyou also to Kym Tilbrook of The Advertiser, where the article first appeared today, for permission to republish. Hamish Alcorn.
by Senator Natasha Stott Despoja
This year, Australians could be issued with a "smartcard". Containing a
computerised chip, these cards will hold sensitive, identifying
information about the holder, allowing him or her to access government
Minister Joe Hockey's objective is to develop a card
which operates as "one set of keys to open a number of doors to a range
of government services and benefits". Storing such large amounts of
sensitive data on individual cards including health records can
increase the risk of those details falling into the wrong hands and
Health-related information is among the most
sensitive data the government holds and should be subject to the
highest standards of privacy protection.
It may not be called an
Australia Card or a national identity card (although a proposal for
that is also being considered) but this proposal may be more dangerous
than the one we debated in the 1980s. Anyone with access to a person's
Medicare card may be in a position to retrieve their health records.
do not know if the information in these smartcards will be available on
a centralised government database if so, the plan is even more
Such a store of personal information could prove
irresistible, not just to government agencies but to businesses, as
well as hackers and other criminals.
There is no way to ensure details would be safe from someone determined to access them.
Do we really know how our personal information is already used and the extent to which our lives are subject to surveillance?
already have exposed politicians as among the worst violators of
personal privacy and we are exempt from the Privacy Act. Constituents
should be able to contact the local member for help without having
their details included on a party political database.
other authority figures? Last year, the federal Privacy Commissioner
found that doctors who sell their patient records to pharmaceutical
marketing companies, without the consent of the patients, are not in
breach of the Privacy Act.
doctor-patient relationship and the confidentiality which applies to it
is viewed by many as sacred. People visit their doctors when they are
sick and vulnerable and they do not expect the details of their
illnesses to be passed to marketing firms.
This is a case of
some doctors profiting from, and exploiting, the medical information of
their patients not about furthering scientific research. One of the
most serious concerns is that if patients cannot be guaranteed that
their health records will be kept confidential, they may be reluctant
to seek medical attention when they need it.
Bureau of Statistics has a proposal to link sensitive information from
the Census, possibly including income and religious persuasion, with
personal information obtained from births and deaths registers, and
The Australian Privacy Foundation has argued
that even without names and addresses, the information will be so
detailed that the individuals referred to would be readily identifiable.
believe that instead of an anonymous snapshot of people's lives, Big
Brother will have a full-length feature film on every Australian, to
watch at his leisure.
Are we ready for this Orwellian future?
Privacy is vital to the wellbeing of our society. We all need access to
private space and the ability to engage in private communications in
order to build strong families and friendships.
We should be
able to send an intimate email to a friend, without fearing it might be
read by someone else. And we need to be able to relay symptoms to our
doctor without the risk that these details might end up in the hands of
a marketing company.