Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) today said that the latest in a long series of embarrassing data security breaches proves that the Commonwealth government can not be trusted to maintain the security of the proposed Health Services Access Card database.
"The government has dozens of databases containing sensitive and personal information about millions of every-day Australians," said EFA Chair Dale Clapperton. "Yet the government is unable to prevent its own employees from illegally snooping through personal records that they have no business accessing."
An article in today's Australian IT online detailed dozens of cases of public servants inappropriately accessing confidential client records have occurred in recent years in government agencies including the Australian Taxation Office, Medicare Australia, the Child Support Agency, and Centrelink.
"If the government cannot maintain the privacy of information in its existing databases, it has no business establishing a new massive database which will contain sensitive information about each and every Australian," Clapperton continued.
"The Access Card database will inevitably be a target for computer hackers or busy-bodies in the public service that have no respect for other people's privacy."
The exposure draft of the Access Card legislation contains criminal offences that would apply to public servants who inappropriately access the Access Card database, but those offences are punishable only by imprisonment for 2 years, and/or a fine of $13,200. By comparison, most of the offences that would apply to ordinary people are punishable by imprisonment for 10 years and/or a fine of $110,000.
"This disparity in levels of punishment is further proof, if any were needed, that the Commonwealth government is not taking the problem of snooping public servants seriously," Clapperton said.
"Furthermore, the vast majority of public servants who are caught abusing their access to these confidential databases never face criminal charges. They are internally disciplined or allowed to resign as a face-saving measure for the government."
"The Howard government needs to take this problem seriously, and throw the book at public servants who abuse their positions of trust in this way."
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- Background information
- Contact details for media
The Australian IT article referenced:
The exposure draft of the Access Card legislation:
Electronic Frontiers Australia Inc. ("EFA") is a non-profit national organisation representing Internet users concerned with on-line rights and freedoms. EFA was established in 1994, is independent of government and commerce, and is funded by membership subscriptions and donations from individuals and organisations with an altruistic interest in promoting online civil liberties.
Mr Dale Clapperton
Phone: 0416 007 100
Email: dclapperton at efa.org.au
Electronic Frontiers Australia Inc -- https://www.efa.org.au/