Draft Report: Data Availability and Use

The Productivity Commission is recommending a major overhaul of Australia’s data policy framework, including the introduction of a Comprehensive Right to give people more control over their data.

Changes in the way business and government manage people’s data needs to be a priority if Australia is to reap the benefits of data as an asset.

‘Surprising though it may be to many, individuals have no rights to ownership of the data that is collected about them. Data is increasingly an asset, and when you create an asset you should have the ability to use it, or not, at your choice,’ Productivity Commission Chair, Peter Harris said.

Overview

Government’s Media Release

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Full Report

Infographic

Key Points
  • Extraordinary growth in data generation and usability have enabled a kaleidoscope of new business models, products and insights to emerge. Individuals, businesses, governments and the broader community have all benefited from these changes.
  • Frameworks and protections developed for data collection and access prior to sweeping digitisation now need reform. This is a global phenomenon and Australia, to its detriment, is not yet participating.
  • The substantive argument in favour of making data more available is that opportunities to use it are largely unknown until the data sources themselves are better known, and until data users have been able to undertake discovery of data.
  • Lack of trust and numerous barriers to sharing and releasing data are stymieing the use and value of Australia’s data.
  • Marginal changes to existing structures and legislation will not suffice. The Commission is proposing reforms to data availability and use, aimed at moving from a system based on risk aversion and avoidance, to one based on transparency and confidence in data processes.
  • At the centre of proposed reforms is the introduction of a new Data Sharing and Release Act, a new National Data Custodian, and a suite of sectoral Accredited Release Authorities that will enable streamlined access to curated datasets.
  • A key element of the recommended reforms is to provide greater control for individuals over data that is collected on them by defining a new Comprehensive Right for consumers. This right would mean consumers:
    • retain the power to view information held on them, request edits or corrections, and be advised of disclosure to third parties
    • have improved rights to opt out of collection in some circumstances; and have a new right to a machine-readable copy of data, provided either to them or to a nominated third party, such as a new service provider.
  • Broad access to key National Interest Datasets should be enabled.
    • For datasets designated as national interest, all restrictions to access and use contained in a variety of national and state legislation, and other program-specific policies, would be replaced by new arrangements under the Data Sharing and Release Act.
    • Datasets would be maintained as national assets, access would be substantially streamlined, and linkage with other National Interest Datasets would be feasible.
    • Initial datasets that may be designated national interest and publicly released could include key registries of businesses, services or assets, and data on activity and usage in areas of substantial public expenditure.
  • Secure sharing of identifiable data held in the public sector and by publicly funded research bodies should be formalised and streamlined. By pre-approving data uses, trusted users would have more timely access to identifiable data through Accredited Release Authorities and ethics committees.
  • The incremental costs associated with more open data access and use — including possible impacts on individuals’ privacy and willingness to share data — are expected to be minimal, but they will exist. But greater use of Australia’s data can coexist with the management of these risks, including genuine safeguards and meaningful transparency to maintain community trust and confidence.
Media Release

Australia’s New Data Framework puts Consumers in Control The Productivity Commission is recommending a major overhaul of Australia’s data policy framework, including the introduction of a Comprehensive Right to give people more control over their data. Changes in the way business and government manage people’s data needs to be a priority if Australia is to reap the benefits of data as an asset.

‘Surprising though it may be to many, individuals have no rights to ownership of the data that is collected about them. Data is increasingly an asset, and when you create an asset you should have the ability to use it, or not, at your choice,’ Productivity Commission Chair, Peter Harris said.

‘We are proposing the creation of a Comprehensive Right to data control for consumers that would give people the right to access their data, and direct that it be sent to another party, such as a new doctor, insurance company or bank. Plus an expanded right for people to opt out of data-collecting activities. And existing privacy laws would all remain in place,” he said.

This Comprehensive Right which would give consumers the right to direct data holders, in both the private or public sector, to transfer a copy of their information to a third party is a big shift in competition policy. Consumers in this instance would also include businesses when they are acting as purchasers.

‘This will give people and businesses who want to be active consumers, genuine control over their data, and will allow innovative businesses and governments the chance to offer those consumers better services. It will increase competition, and give businesses and governments strong incentives to handle data better.’

The report shows that Australia is missing out on opportunities for improved health care, safer and more efficient infrastructure and machinery maintenance, enhanced supply chain logistics, and the development of more tailored, data-driven, financial and energy market products. The report warns that Australia can no longer afford to forgo its benefits under the misconception that denying access will minimise risks.

‘The risks from the proposed reforms are no greater than the risks today that are managed by any consumer who chooses to click a mouse and buy or subscribe to a product. And the same advice applies: be very choosey about who you share your data with,’ Productivity Commission Chair, Peter Harris said.

Research

Australia is rapidly falling behind other countries such as the UK and New Zealand in our use of data and we need to allow broader and quicker access for important research and development.

‘We saw a number of cases where health researchers were waiting years to access data. This research led to important changes in treatment processes and literally saved lives. In one important research study they still don’t have the data they require and they have been waiting eight years,’ Mr Harris said.

The reforms proposed include a contemporary approach to providing permission to Australian Government agencies to share and release data, subject to strong safeguards. A newly established National Data Custodian would have responsibility for accrediting data sharing and release, including a suite of national interest datasets. States and territories would be invited to contribute to and use the national interest datasets.

Public hearings for this Inquiry will be held on 21 November in Melbourne and on 28 November in Sydney.

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