Last week, the headlines told us that the senate backs GDPR style laws in Australia.

But what does this really mean in terms of the government’s commitment to reviewing privacy in Australia?

This does not (necessarily) mean the law will be reviewed

In short, it means very little.  The senate’s support of senator Jordon Steele-John’s notice of motion calling on the Government to consider the impact of our current privacy laws on Australians and look to the GDPR as a potential model for privacy protections for Australians holds no commitment as the senate cannot commit the government to action.

What it does signify is something very big and that is, a shift in the willingness of the senate to stand behind the Greens’ position that Australian privacy laws must be scrutinised.  Just two months ago, senator Steele-John put forward a very similar notice of motion and it was shut down, as were a couple of other privacy related motions.

Why did this one pass? (What has changed)

There are a few likely reasons why this one passed.  Putting aside matters of semantics and the politics of calling on government to subject itself to tighter scrutiny, (which was the case in motions no 749 and no 786), there is one material reason why this motion passed.

In the last two months, consumers have started to wake up to something we privacy professionals have worried about for a while – and that legal compliance is not enough and can, in fact, be damaging if ethical behaviours and transparent practices are perceived to be lacking.

There has been an enormous groundswell in Australia over the last two months, with both Facebook Cambridge Analytica and Commonwealth Bank blitzing the press with actions they have taken – or not taken – which although arguably lawful, have not met public perceptions of fairness and ethics.  Put simply, community expectations have surpassed legal standards.

So, senator Steele-John had his day, and time will tell whether this will serve as a prompt for government to call for a review of Australian privacy law in view of the GDPR.

There are plenty of other reasons why GDPR compliance makes sense, but we’ll leave that to a future blog.

Happy Privacy Awareness Week!