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International standard rapidly needed for privacy protection

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March 27, 2007

International privacy experts from the U.K. met with the Australian government last week in an effort to analyze weaknesses in the Privacy Act which is currently under review. Various government representatives spoke with Hewlett-Packard scientist and co-author of the TrustGuide, Stephen Crane, and Australia's former privacy commissioner, Malcolm Crompton.

Overall, the TrustGuide is a joint venture with BT (British Telecom) which was sponsored by the United Kingdom Department of Trade Industries' research facility Science Wise.

Various research conducted in writing the TrustGuide recommends the privacy policy should be amended so that it is based on public demand for individual control of personal information.

Now a second study is underway called TrustGuide 2 which examines all the various risks associated with technology and law today. Crompton said functionality is a big problem when it is imposed on the user.

Crompton added "businesses used to utilize CRM (content management software) to see how much data they can get behind customer's backs before they start screaming in a loud way."

Calling Australia's Privacy Act as very weak, Crompton added privacy infringements occur through 'functionality creep', where companies add information-distribution features to services without customer consent, such as the Facebook fiasco.

He added "the hypocrisy of one-way authentication is destroying user confidence in privacy because many institutions are demanding more authentication yet are providing very little to satisfy the consumer."

Crompton said while privacy legislation needs to be integrated into Australian requirements, the most effective policy will eventually and hopefully become an international standard.

As an example, the Global Chamber of Commerce (GCC) is working in developing various standards for global data transfers.

At the APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) conference in 2004, the GCC was involved in the adoption of the APEC Privacy Framework. The framework was developed for APEC member economies and aims to protect personal information and cross-border data transfers.

The GCC, in cooperation with the APEC Business Advisory Council, has been promoting this framework throughout its development and implementation, including the upcoming rollout of a pilot project.

To be sure, Stephen Crane said a working solution lies in the user-controlled release of private information. "Under the legislative environment we have at the current moment, we release too much information and just hope for the best," Crane said.

"In TrustGuide 2, we gave respondents a virtual smart card which allowed them to allocate sharing and deletion of their information, and we found most users were willing to have their information stored.

"Since current ID management has a habit of migrating risk rather than resolving it, the user will suffer if they fail to authenticate themselves for any reason," Crane added.

Federal privacy commissioner Karen Curtis supports a review of Australian privacy legislation, claiming the Act is becoming totally irrelevant. "Principle-based law in the Privacy Act remains the best way to regulate information handling, but there appears to be no rationale for the existing situation of a set of privacy principles for Australian and ACT government agencies and a different set for the private sector," Curtis said.

"Having two sets of principles can create confusion in situations where public sector agencies undertake commercial activities or private sector organizations are contracted to Australian government agencies. A single set of privacy principles would encourage greater regulatory consistency and simplicity, as well as maximizing privacy protection," said Curtis.

The European Commission is also sponsoring PRIME, a privacy reform project which involves the development of an IMS (Identity Management System) prototype as part of a global revision of privacy legislation to address new threats to personal privacy.

Countries around the world involved in the project include Australia, Russia, Japan, the United States and the European Community.

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Source: IT World Canada

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