Tag: Australia

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Privacy and cybersecurity laws expected to undergo a significant overhaul in the wake of Optus data breach
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Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus pledges sweeping data privacy reforms
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Privacy Pandemic: Australians Losing Trust in Institutions’ Use of Their Data
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“The best of its kind anywhere in the world today”: COVIDSafe among the safest tracing apps globally, study finds
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Update on the Criminalisation of Non-Consensual Distribution of Intimate Images in WA: Another Conviction in Australia
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Sharing of ‘abhorrent violent material’ now an offence under new laws
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Major political parties join the Federal Parliament in the February data breach
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Emergency warning system hacked
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Encryption bill to give unprecedented power
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China in breach of cyber-security pact

Privacy and cybersecurity laws expected to undergo a significant overhaul in the wake of Optus data breach

By Cameron Abbott, Rob Pulham and Stephanie Mayhew

Over the past two years, the Privacy Act has been the subject of long-awaited reform in Australia however, it seems the Optus data breach may have given it some much needed momentum.

The Optus attack is understood to have affected the details of 11.2m Optus customers, and of that 2.8m individuals have had their driver’s licence and/or passport numbers compromised. The hacker claims to have extracted the data from an API – software that allows two different systems to talk to each other. Therefore, if the claim is true the hacker didn’t need to provide authentication (e.g. a username and password) to retrieve the data.

In the wake of the attack, the Government has shared its plans to pursue substantial reforms that will include increased penalties under the Privacy Act (currently capped at $2.22m per offence) as well as changes to data breach notification laws to allow companies to rapidly inform financial institutions of affected individuals in an effort to minimise fraud.

The data breach also highlights the risks involved in collecting large amounts of personal information and storing this for excessive time periods. While the Privacy Act promotes the collection of a minimum amount of personal information, i.e. only that information that is necessary for a particular purpose and which the entity intends to use or disclose – individuals generally have limited control over how long their information is retained for.

During the initial stages of the Privacy Act review, the Attorney General’s Department sought submissions from entities on their views as to whether individuals should be given the right to have their personal information erased. Optus in submissions to the review argued against such a change stating that the right to erase personal data would involve significant technical hurdles and compliance costs that would outweigh the benefits. Of course this incident has happened just as stores are gearing up for Halloween – a fitting time for those public submissions to come back to haunt them.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus pledges sweeping data privacy reforms

By Cameron Abbott, Rob Pulham and Hugo Chow

Newly sworn-in Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has announced that there is a range of “sweeping reforms” that are needed to be made to Australia’s privacy laws, and that he is committed to making these changes during the government’s first term in parliament.

Mr Dreyfus’ department is currently reviewing the feedback it has received from its discussion paper around the current review of the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) (Privacy Act). Mr Dreyfus said that “Everyone agrees that the Commonwealth Privacy Act is out of date and in need of reform for the digital age”, and that he is hoping to bring a final report of reform proposals into the public domain in the coming months.

Privacy practitioners have for years been anticipating some level of reform as the winds of change have been blowing, but it has not been easy to predict what may change, or when. Proposed changes include strengthening individuals’ privacy rights, including creating a direct cause of action or statutory right for breaches of privacy laws; introducing specific codes for certain industries; and increasing maximum penalties which are significantly out of step with international jurisdictions and with other key Australian business laws.

However such changes are not likely to be welcomed by all, even if “everyone agrees” the Privacy Act is out of date and in need of reform, with business groups opposed to areas of proposed reform such as allowing individuals to bring claims directly against companies.

It is a fascinating precursor to what may become hotly contested reforms with significant impact on how businesses engage with their customers. It may be hard to tell but privacy nerds are on the edge of our seats as the reforms, much talked about, move a step closer to taking shape. There’s never been a better time to start paying attention.

Privacy Pandemic: Australians Losing Trust in Institutions’ Use of Their Data

By Cameron Abbott, Rob Pulham, Max Evans and James Gray

In the age of QR code check-ins and vaccination certificates, as Australia edges towards a post-pandemic (or mid-pandemic, it increasingly seems) “normal”, new research from the Australian National University (ANU) has revealed that Australians have become less trusting of institutions with regards to data privacy.

The ANU researchers said that the decrease in public trust between May 2020 and August 2021 was small but “statistically significant”. A key reason for this decrease, according to the researchers, was concern around “how their private data from check-in apps might be used by major institutions” as lockdowns and the use of apps for contact tracing intensified.

The institutions which experienced the greatest loss of trust were social media companies (10.1% decline), telecommunications companies, and federal, state and territory governments. This echoes sentiment from the OAIC following its recent ‘community attitudes to privacy’ survey that Australians trust social media companies the least when it comes to handling personal information, followed by the government.

While it remains to be seen whether this loss of trust becomes a permanent trend, one way to make Australians more comfortable with an organisation’s data practices – as reinforced by the OAIC – is to ensure the purpose of the collection and use of personal information is clearly understood. The OAIC has found that Australians are increasingly questioning data practices where the purpose for collecting personal information is unclear.

With increased penalties for privacy non-compliance looming, there’s never been a better time to revisit your privacy policies and collection statements to make sure that these are clear, so your organisation can stand out against this trend and build consumer trust.

“The best of its kind anywhere in the world today”: COVIDSafe among the safest tracing apps globally, study finds

By Cameron Abbott, Warwick Andersen, Rob Pulham and Rebecca Gill

In some positive news about the Federal Government’s COVIDSafe app, the University of Adelaide’s cybersecurity experts have assessed the Australian contact tracing app to be one of the best and safest among 34 apps used globally to track and trace COVID-19 cases.

A team from the University’s School of Computer Science made the judgment in a study which assessed Android versions of 34 of the world’s COVID-19 contact tracing apps for security and privacy vulnerabilities.

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Update on the Criminalisation of Non-Consensual Distribution of Intimate Images in WA: Another Conviction in Australia

By Olivia O’Brien, Philip Murray and Kathleen Weston

Just a few months ago, we published an article on the criminalisation of the non-consensual distribution of intimate images in Western Australia. Only this week, there has been a second successful conviction under the Criminal Law Amendment (Intimate Images) Act 2018 (WA) (WA Act) in the Rockingham Magistrate’s Court.

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Sharing of ‘abhorrent violent material’ now an offence under new laws

By Cameron Abbott, Michelle Aggromito and Rebecca Gill

Governments around the world are imposing more responsibilities on tech providers to deal with online harms. In response to the recent attacks in Christchurch, in which a gunman livestreamed on Facebook his attack on a mosque, the Australian Government recently enacted the Criminal Code Amendment (Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material) Act 2019 (Cth) (Act). The Act, which commenced on 6 April 2019, was pushed through swiftly and has a broad reach.

Under the Act, internet, content and hosting service providers must refer details of any ‘abhorrent violent material’ that records or streams ‘abhorrent violent conduct’ to the Australian Federal Police. Abhorrent violent material is material that is audio, visual or audio-visual, and that records or streams ‘abhorrent violent conduct’. Such conduct includes acts of terrorism, murder, attempted murder, torture, rape and kidnapping.

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Major political parties join the Federal Parliament in the February data breach

By Cameron Abbott and Ella Richards

Following an unprecedented surge in cyber attacks against Australian businesses, an attack on Australia’s political infrastructure was imminent. New information reveals that the cyber attack against the Federal Parliament earlier this year was accompanied by yet another directed towards the Liberal, Labour and National parties.

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Emergency warning system hacked

By Warwick Andersen, Rob Pulham and Allison Wallace

A new year, and a new hacking incident – this time, it was the Early Warning Network (EWN) – a text and email service used by councils around Australia to warn locals of emergency situations.

On its Facebook page, EWN stated that a hacker was able to access its system, sending out messages via text, email and landline stating that EWN had been hacked and that the receiver’s personal data was not safe. The message also included links to support email addresses and a website.

EWN said that the hack was quickly identified and systems shut down, with no-one’s personal information compromised during the attack. The attack is believed to have originated within Australia, involving compromised login details.

While EWN said that personal information was not compromised by this incident, it serves as a timely reminder for businesses to check and test their information security processes and data breach response plans – and if one isn’t in place, to implement one.  The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner reported that it received 550 notifications of data breaches from the time the notifiable data breach legislation commenced on 22 February 2018 to 30 September 2018.

If you’d like to find out more about the legislation, or what your business can do to protect itself, check out this 60-second video by Cameron Abbott.

Encryption bill to give unprecedented power

By Cameron Abbott and Wendy Mansell

The Coalition government is attempting to pass large-scale decryption reforms which will give sweeping powers to law enforcement agencies for overt and covert computer access.

The reforms have caused significant controversy as they may force tech companies and communications providers to modify their services, creating “systemic weaknesses” for intelligence agencies to exploit. However many point out these same vulnerabilities may be utilised by criminals.

Further the potential repercussions of these reforms may undermine consumers’ privacy, safety and trust through unprecedented access to private communications. This could have anti-competitive effects, as the reputations of Australian software developers and hardware manufacturers will suffer within international markets.

At the same time, the harsh reality that terrorists and organised crime increasingly utilise these technologies to evade surveillance highlights a very clear problem for law enforcement authorities.

We won’t seek to suggest where the balance between these interests should lie, but the debate rages on. Stay tuned.

China in breach of cyber-security pact

By Cameron Abbott and Wendy Mansell

It has been a fairly turbulent week in the cyber-espionage space following accusations that China’s Ministry of Security Services is behind the surge of intellectual property theft from Australian companies.

The news that the persistent attacks on Australian IP are perhaps a State sponsored campaign by the Chinese government is concerning as it suggests that China are in breach of several international and bilateral agreements.

In 2015, an agreement was made between Chinese President Xi Jinping and former President Obama, that the U.S and China would not steal intellectual property from one another for commercial gain. This was furthered at the November 2015, G20 Summit, where the cyber-theft of IP was accepted as the norm.

Following on from this in September 2017, former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Chinese Premier Li Kequiang promised that neither country would engage in cyber-theft of intellectual property and commercial secrets.

Reports of cyber-theft declined immediately after these agreements, however in recent months they have ramped up again.

A U.S Trade Representative report released this week confirms that despite any international agreements, China has continued engaging in cyber-espionage and the theft of intellectual property. Further the report states that not only is China likely to be in breach of these agreements, but the attacks have “increased in frequency and sophistication”.

Notably in July of this year, China was linked to the cyber-breach of Australian National University. This attack was particularly disturbing given that ANU is a leading university involved in key areas of Australian technological, scientific, defence and commercial research.  It is fascinating that cyber attacks and theft are a “norm” that is accepted within our overall international relationships.  Physical acts of a similar nature would not be so easily accepted.

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