embraced the information technology revolution and the opportunities the
increasingly borderless commercial world has to offer. One in four
Australian households already has access to the Internet and it is forecast
that, by 2005, more than 60 percent of households will be Internet users.
has the potential to enrich the lives, work and well being of all
Australians, but the fast pace of the ever-changing technological landscape
means information and communications laws need to be at the leading edge of
developments. It is clear many Australians have concerns about electronic
commerce, including issues such as legal certainty, security, authentication
and privacy. Such concerns have made many people reluctant to embrace
electronic commerce and its benefits.
have taken up the Internet at a high rate, it is estimated that fewer than
five percent of Australians use the Internet to buy and sell goods.
One of the major
reasons for this reluctance is a general concern about how personal
information is obtained, stored, used and transferred over the world wide
People want to know
who has their name, their address, their telephone number, their credit card
details and any other information they impart as they trawl through the web.
They also want to know how that information will be used.
Many websites collect
information about the people who surf though them. Not only do sites log how
a unique number stored by your browser in your computer - has given website
operators unprecedented access to Internet users’ habits and allowed them
to target their advertising.
The Privacy Amendment
(Private Sector) Bill 2000, introduced to Parliament in April, addresses
privacy issues thrown up by new technology. This Bill is the most
significant development in the area of privacy law since the passing of the
Privacy Act in 1988. Previously, there has been no comprehensive privacy
protection applying to the private sector.
The Bill will
establish a new approach to the protection and handling of personal
information in the private sector and will also implement the Privacy
Commissioner’s National Principles for the Fair Handling of Personal
The Bill has been
drafted in such a way that it can be applied in both the conventional and
electronic environments. It will mean website operators collecting personal
information online will have to take reasonable steps to ensure that
Internet users know who is collecting their information and how it is used,
stored and disclosed. The legislation also allows people to access their
records and correct those records if they are wrong.
will also have to protect that information from unauthorised access and
disclosure. Website operators who handle personal information will have to
address issues of data security, such as encryption.
The Bill will also
apply to direct marketing by electronic mail. The legislation allows the use
of personal information for direct marketing purposes, provided people are
given the opportunity to opt out of receiving any further direct marketing.
This provision aims to
regulate spamming - the unwanted bombardment of junk mail - by Australian
private sector organisations. The Bill provides minimum benchmarks, but
private sector organisations can adopt higher standards, such as the opt-in
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