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Govt urged to publish private data: report

AAP logoAAP 2/11/2016 Belinda Merhab

Huge amounts of Australians' private data collected by government would be made publicly available under a proposed overhaul, just weeks after several major breaches of patients' medical data.

The Productivity Commission has released a draft report recommending sweeping reforms to how data is used in Australia, warning the nation is falling behind the rest of the world and missing out on potentially lifesaving medical treatments because of its fearful attitude toward releasing data.

It warns Australia can no longer afford to forgo the benefits under the misconception that restricting access will minimise risks.

Thursday's report recommends new legislation to establish a national data custodian, responsible for overseeing the release of data, as well as several accredited release authorities, which would enable access to data in specific areas like health.

It recommends the creation of a new "comprehensive right" for consumers, giving them power to view information held on them, expand their rights to opt-out of data collection and ask for their information to be transferred to a third party, like asking a GP to transfer their medical records to another GP.

The report comes weeks after the federal health department admitted it accidentally published de-identified patient medical and pharmaceutical records that were able to be re-identified.

The data was removed immediately but not before it had been downloaded 1500 times, including by various companies.

Last week, the Red Cross Blood Service apologised for accidentally leaking the personal details of more than half a million Australians on the internet, in what was labelled the nation's biggest personal data breach.

The report acknowledges risks are undeniable "but it is important not to fall victim to fear".

It says the health department breach highlights the need for a robust framework and expert technical support.

Productivity Commission chair Peter Harris insists the proposed changes would offer added protection for consumers because in the case of the health department breach, the department would no longer be responsible for releasing de-identified data, handing it over to experts instead.

"Most agencies will not have the skills - we're proposing purpose-built entities who will manage this," he said.

Data that would identify people would only be released to a limited number of researchers and only within a secure facility.

He said the changes would empower consumers to use their data as an asset to get better deals on insurance or get better medical treatment.

At the moment, data sharing in health is so dismal, there are hospitals where patient data can't automatically be shared between general wards and intensive care units.

"Right now, medical records are pretty much a debacle," Mr Harris said.

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