The Guardian December 8, 1999


For sale: your privacy

by Mati English

Two events that should disturb all Australians who value their civil rights 
and privacy surfaced last week. They involve private corporations being 
given access to the personal and private details of Australian residents to 
sell for a profit.

Kerry Packer's Publishing and Broadcasting Ltd and US-based data-warehouse 
group Acxiom last week announced they had formed a joint venture to collect 
data on Australian citizens.

And it has been revealed that the government agency in charge of collecting 
Medicare data, the Health Insurance Commission (HIC), intends to sell 
Medicare information to a range of customers, including insurance 
companies, lawyers, and any group or individual who describe themselves as 
a private health body or a consumer of health services.

The Packer-Acxiom plan includes cross-referencing of information from a 
number of public sources  including electoral rolls  and selling it on 
to institutions such as banks, insurance companies and retailers.

Personal and financial details of almost every Australian are likely to end 
up in this colossal databank.

Furthermore, the Federal Government has postponed the introduction of 
privacy laws for the private sector until next year despite assurances only 
a month ago to the contrary.

The revelations on HIC is contained in its just released 1998-99 Annual 
Report.

According to this new strategic plan, prepared by consultants at a reported 
cost of $294,000, "Created information can be packaged as a product to be 
sold or provided as a service for customers".

The HIC will organise its business "... around acquiring, packaging and 
distributing information that builds on our current systems to meet our 
customers' payment and health decision making needs".

HIC customers include insurers, legal professionals and claimants, private 
health bodies, State health agencies, Commonwealth departments and agencies 
as well as all Australian residents.

Said Stephen Milgate, Executive Director of the Australian Doctors' Fund:

"The HIC is either a custodian of confidential information under strict 
privacy laws or it is a commercial organisation intent on selling its 
information to the highest bidder. It cannot be both and it is about time 
we knew the truth of where this organisation is heading."

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