The next steps in Australia’s long bubbling reform of the privacy regime has been announced, with draft legislation expected to be tabled by August 2024. The reform is being presented as part of the Federal Government’s efforts to improve online safety, particularly for women, but it’s not clear how broad its remit will be at this stage.

Of the 116 recommendations for reform made by the Attorney-General’s Department in 2023, 38 were accepted in full by the Federal Government, and a further 68 accepted in principle, where more extensive consultation is required.

We are expecting all 38 of the “accepted in full” changes to be implemented in the August bill, which includes:

  • changes to the civil penalty regime, to introduce low, medium and high tiers, based on the severity of the breach, to allow for more targeted enforcement;
  • a requirement for privacy policies to include details of any personal information used in substantially automated decisions with legal or other significant effects;
  • a right for individuals to request meaningful information about how substantially automated decisions with legal or other significant effects are made; and
  • a Children’s Online Privacy Code, for online services likely to be accessed by individuals under the age of 18.

We don’t know at this stage how many of the “agree in-principle” reforms will be tabled in August, however in its messaging regarding the issue of online safety and the link with privacy reform the Federal Government has highlighted:

  • the introduction of a statutory tort for serious invasions of privacy; and
  • expanding data subject rights beyond access and correction, to include a right of erasure, and a right to de-index certain online search results.

One issue which has been repeatedly highlighted is the need to offer protection against doxxing (i.e. the release of personal information with an intent to cause harm), as well as the wish to offer women suffering domestic and family violence “greater control and transparency over their personal information.”

Australia’s Attorney-General recently confirmed his views that the current regime is “woefully outdated and unfit for the digital age,” with “speed of innovation and the rise of artificial intelligence” underlining the need for reform.

We’ll provide further updates once more information about the August bill is available.