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Laws to tighten privacy after data breach

AAP logoAAP 12/10/2016 Belinda Merhab

Legislation to protect the sensitive medical data of Australians unwittingly made public by the Health Department has been introduced to parliament.

Attorney-General George Brandis on Wednesday introduced the amendment to privacy laws in the Senate, making it illegal to re-identify de-identified government data without authorisation.

The laws were announced in September, hours before the Health Department admitted that de-identified medical data it released in August was able to be decoded.

The breach was discovered by Melbourne University researchers who alerted the department on September 8.

But the department kept it secret for three weeks, failing to alert even health service providers whose information was able to be decoded.

The department defended the timing of the announcement, insisting it had taken steps to develop a measured and comprehensive response.

It insisted no information about patients or health service providers was made public.

But doctors warn it's possible individual patients could be identified.

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

The Privacy Commissioner is investigating the matter.

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