Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Dan Tehan outlined how the Digital Readiness Bill would provide stronger protections for veterans’ privacy at the RSL ACT conference in Canberra.
Mr Tehan also provided a document that set out the improvement to privacy protections for veterans under the Digital Readiness Bill.
“This Bill will strengthen veterans’ privacy above and beyond the current system,” Mr Tehan said
Currently, a veteran’s personal information is covered by the Privacy Act 1988 which means the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) can release all of an individual’s information—including their medical records—and the Department does not need to contact an individual before releasing their information.
Under the Digital Readiness Bill, only the Secretary of the DVA has the power to release an individual’s private information and the Secretary must contact the individual and provide a reasonable opportunity to respond.
The Secretary can only correct misinformation that is detrimental or harmful to the broader veteran community and when doing so the Secretary must use anonymous information in the first instance. An individual’s specific medical information cannot be used to correct misinformation.
Before releasing an individual’s information, the Secretary must also consider an individual’s circumstances-including health, disability, psychological and social circumstances.
No individual’s national security or service records can be compromised under the new legislation.
“The privacy safeguards that currently exist for protecting veterans’ privacy information are less rigorous; there is not really any stick to go with them if someone decides to exploit a veteran’s information,” Mr Tehan said.
“As part of the Digital Readiness Bill, we have strengthened the privacy safeguards around how information could be disclosed.”
Under the proposed new legislation the Secretary of the DVA would face criminal sanction if a veterans’ personal information was incorrectly released.
“If you’re a Secretary of a Department and you’ve got a criminal conviction against your name, you’re going to find it very, very difficult to get employment in other departments or find work elsewhere,” he said.
Digital Readiness: Strengthening Veterans’ Privacy
Under the current rules, the Department can release veterans’ information with reference to the Privacy Act 1988. While the Department of Veterans’ Affairs has and will always operate with privacy of information as a first priority in its conduct, the current laws do not have operating safeguards, as outlined below.
With the changes made to the Digital Readiness Bill, the Minister would set rules around a Public Interest Disclosure provision. This would put in place codified and concrete safeguards around when and how the Department uses personal information.
These changes will strengthen veterans’ privacy.