Facing the Senate committee, probing the Data Availability and Transparency Bill 2020, was Jonathan Gadir from the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, who highlighted the discrepancy between the goals of the Bill and what it actually allows to occur.
"The term 'public sector data' is really giving the impression that data contemplated by the Bill is aggregated statistics of some kind -- the definition in the Bill is far broader than the goals would require, encompassing 'all data collected, created, or held by the Commonwealth or on its behalf'," he said.
Such information, Gadir explained, includes information about relationships and finances, which is disclosed to Centrelink to receive a pension, or disclosed to Immigration as part of a visa application.
"People are revealing most intensely intimate parts of their lives right now to Border Force as they beg for permission to be allowed to leave the country," he said. "So the broad definition of public sector data is not really the right one for this Bill."
He said that if the Bill was really just to improve service delivery, inform policymaking, and allow for research, then there should be a definition of public sector data to reflect that.
"Let's exclude personal information from the definition of public sector data and say that it must be anonymous. Let's also say the permitted purposes should not include making administrative decisions that will affect individuals," he continued.
"Basic fairness and civil liberties are really under threat when personal information we're compelled to disclose to a government agency is then spread silently behind the scenes to other agencies or private companies, and is able to be used in surprising and unexpected ways."