Australian Government Proposes Tougher Penalties to Protect Online Privacy

09 May 2019

On 25th March 2019, the Federal Government announced plans to reform existing privacy laws and penalties in order to better protect Australian citizens and their personal information online. The joint media release from Attorney-General Hon. Christian Porter MP and the Minister for Communications and the Arts Hon. Mitch Fifield stated that “[e]xisting protections and penalties for misuse of Australians’ personal information under the Privacy Act fall short of community expectations”.

The proposed amendments would aim to protect Australians online, specifically children, and impose harsher penalties for misuse of personal information, particularly by social media and online platforms. The Office of the Australian Information Commissioners (OAIC), Australia’s privacy regulator, would also be provided with an additional $25 million over three years to provide resources for investigating and responding to breaches of privacy, as well as overseeing online privacy rules.

The proposed amendments to the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) are as follows:

  • increase penalties for all entities covered by the Act, which includes social media and online platforms operating in Australia, from the current maximum penalty of $2.1 million for serious or repeated breaches to $10 million or three times the value of any benefit obtained through the misuse of misinformation or 10 per cent of a company’s annual domestic turnover – whichever is the greater
  • provide the OAIC with new infringement notice powers backed by new penalties of up to $63,000 for bodies corporate and $12,600 for individuals for failure to cooperate with efforts to resolve minor breaches
  • expand other options available to the OAIC to ensure breaches are addressed through third party reviews, and/or publish prominent notices about specific breaches and ensure that those directly affected are advised
  • require social media and online platforms to stop using or disclosing an individual’s personal information on request
  • introduce specific rules to protect the personal information of children and other vulnerable groups.

Draft legislation is planned for the latter half of 2019. The implementation of this new privacy regime may be dependent on the result of the upcoming federal election on the 18th May.

Soo Choi

Soo Choi is a Legal Research Assistant at CompliSpace. She is currently studying a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws at the University of Sydney.