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Media releases & speeches

The Hon Dan Tehan MP
Minister for Veterans' Affairs
Minister for Defence Personnel
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Cyber Security
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC

17 March 2017

Improving current provisions for veterans’ privacy

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 today.

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.

COMPARISON OF PRIVACY SAFEGUARDS

UNDER THE PRIVACY ACT 1988 UNDER DIGITAL READINESS
The Department does not need to contact the individual prior to releasing information. When disclosing their information, the Secretary of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs must contact to the individuals.
The Department does not need to provide an opportunity for the individual to respond prior to release. The Secretary must give the person a reasonable opportunity to respond, including an individual’s circumstances including age; health; disability; social, cultural or family circumstances; and any physical, psychological, national security or relevant circumstances.
The Department can release all of an individual’s record. An individual’s entire record can never be released.
The Department can release details on an individual’s medical conditions. No individual’s specific medical information can be used to correct misinformation.
The Department can provide this information to anyone it believes should have it, whether they have need for it or not. Only people who have a genuine and legitimate interest can be provided the information.
  The Secretary of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs has to consider an individual’s circumstances including age, health, disability, and social, cultural or family circumstances.
  The Secretary has to consider any physical, psychological, national security or relevant circumstances about the individual.
  The release of information has to be proportionate to the objective and to the outcome.
  The Secretary has to consider if anonymous or general information would achieve the same outcome.
  Only misinformation that is detrimental or harmful to the broader veteran community can be addressed.
  When used to address misinformation, the Secretary has to use anonymous information in the first instance.

 

Media enquiries:

Minister Tehan’s Office: Byron Vale, 0428 262 894
Department of Veterans’ Affairs Media: 02 6289 6203

Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS) can be reached 24 hours a day across Australia for crisis support and free confidential counselling. Phone 1800 011 046 (international: +61 8 8241 4546). VVCS is a service founded by Vietnam veterans.