[LINK] Tax Office admits privacy sin
Tue, 06 Jun 2000 09:07:11 +1000
Tax Office admits privacy sin
By MARGO KINGSTON in Canberra
The Australian Taxation Office last night admitted it had broken privacy
laws in relation to its plans to give away and sell personal information
supplied by individual applicants for an Australian Business Number.
A statement by the Privacy Commissioner, Mr Malcolm Crompton, released
after talks with the Tax Office late yesterday, said the office "has agreed
that their disclosure statements in regard to information provided on ABNs
do not currently comply fully with the information privacy principles set
out in the Privacy Act".
This refers to the fact that the ABN application form does not tell
applicants that their private address, email and industry sector can be
sold to anyone for $20, and instead says that their information will be
A Tax Office spokeswoman said last night that the talks had been
constructive, and referred with approval to Mr Crompton's statement, which
said that the office had also agreed to "look at ways of providing
individuals with an 'opt out' provision that will limit the type of
information that is publicly available on them".
After a flood of complaints from citizens yesterday, Mr Crompton told the
Herald last night that "I am pleased that after our discussions, the ATO
will do the right thing about people's personal information and will now
fully disclose what they will do with it".
He said the Tax Office had agreed to develop guidelines to ensure
individuals' ABN details were not sold to direct marketing groups, and
assured Australians that "if further evidence does come to light that
warrants a formal investigation, then I will take the necessary steps".
The Tax Office admission contradicts a statement by the Tax Commissioner,
Mr Michael Carmody, on Friday which castigated the Herald for suggesting
that the office had breached privacy principles
The head of the Parliamentary Privacy Committee, Victorian Liberal Mr Kevin
Andrews, told the Herald last night that he had asked the Tax Office to
give evidence on Thursday about why it would sell individuals' private
addresses and emails - as disclosed in their Australian Business Number
application forms - to the private sector for $20 a pop.
"I am concerned to ensure that individuals can keep their home addresses
and other personal details private," he said.
There is no disclosure on ABN application forms that the personal
information of individuals forced to apply for the ABN could be given away
The Tax Office was yesterday unable to answer questions on whether citizens
could insist that their private and email addresses not be sold.
It said that citizens concerned about breaches of their privacy could
cancel their ABN on completion of a form, but it could not say whether
their details would be deleted from the files available for sale.
On Sunday the minister responsible for small business, Mr Reith, said he
was concerned about the matter and would investigate. The shadow
attorney-general, Mr Robert McClelland, yesterday challenged Mr Reith to
instruct his department to reveal on its Web site - which takes ABN
applications - that the private addresses and emails of individuals could
be sold or given away.
A spokesman for Mr Reith responded: "The minister has formally raised the
the matter within the Government today."
Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.
-- Henry Ford