Not for Profits Warned on Privacy and Data Security

Data security has emerged as a major challenge for organisations and agencies across Australia, according to the Australian Privacy Commission.

Australian Privacy Commissioner, Timothy Pilgrim, has told the Emerging Challenges in Privacy Law Conference that in the modern world of cloud computing, portable storage devices, electronic databases and hackers, the parameters around data security and document storage have shifted immeasurably.

Pilgrim said organisations should make sure their privacy practices are up to date and customers' personal information is secure to avoid embarrassing privacy breaches in 2012.

“All it takes is a single careless incident to cause a massive data breach,” Pilgrim said.

He recalled that in the UK in 2007, two computer discs belonging to Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs went missing.

The discs were thought to contain names, addresses, national insurance numbers and banking details of approximately 25 million people in the UK.

Pilgrim says a data breach on this scale would have been inconceivable when the Privacy Act was introduced.

“Sometimes, your records can be compromised even without a careless mistake and data security has emerged as a major challenge for organisations and agencies.

“Organisations must ensure that they have implemented robust information-security measures. But this alone is not enough. Data breaches can occur even when all reasonable steps have been taken to protect information.

“Organisations and agencies need to have contingency plans in place so that if a data breach occurs, they can deal with it swiftly, mitigating any risk of harm that the breach may cause.

He said that while a data breach alone can cause reputational damage, recent experience shows that customers can be quite understanding if an organisation openly acknowledges a breach, apologises and acts promptly to resolve it.

“Greater reputational damage can occur if an organisation is seen to try to cover up a breach. Having the courage to acknowledge your mistakes, knowing when to notify affected individuals or the OAIC, and acting quickly to resolve them is another important challenge.”

Not for Profits have responsibilities under the Privacy Act if they earn over $3 million per year and/or hold health information.

Not for Profits will be a focus for the Privacy Commission during Privacy Awareness Week 2012 which is held from April 30 - May 5. 

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Privacy legislation responsibilities

Just a query - why do NFPs have no responsibilities under the privacy act if they earn less than $3 000 000? I think the state privacy legislation applies to any organization which holds personal information records. It's possible that federal legislation may not apply to organizations with a lower turnover. It would be good to check this - smaller organizations might get an unpleasant surprise if they accepted your statement at face value.

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