The Australian Government is seeking public submissions as it begins to shape future data sharing regulations.

The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet last week released an issues paper outlining potential approaches to a new data sharing bill.

The paper states that the upcoming Data Sharing and Release (DS&R) Bill, “aims to balance sharing data held by government with appropriate risk management.”

“The DS&R Bill will be based on key principles designed to move the paradigm from one which restricts access to data to one which authorises sharing and release when appropriate data safeguards are in place,” it states.

The bill will also aim to make better use out of public sector data through the planned introduction of accreditation requirements for data authorities.

Minister for Human Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Digital Transformation, Michael Keenan spoke of the need to create regulations that protect individuals without hampering innovation.

“The reforms will first and foremost look to strengthen the existing safeguards around the management of sensitive and private citizen data,” he said.

“But they will also seek to replace the complex web of rules and regulations which currently restrict the release of non-sensitive data.

“Those rules are stifling innovation and preventing productivity gains across all sectors of the economy.

“Greater access to data could also help governments and industry to make more informed and evidence-based decisions when formulating policy.”

He also announced that an independent National Data Commissioner would be appointed to oversee the process.

Changing the system

The DS&R Bill and attached issues paper follows a Productivity Commission inquiry into data sharing last year.

The inquiry assessed the costs and benefits of increasing the availability of both public and private sector data.

The paper made 41 recommendations on how Australia’s data sharing system can move from one based on risk avoidance to one based on value, choice and transparency.

CEO and Chief Data Scientist of the NSW Data Analytics Centre and Vice President (Academic) of ACS’ Technical Advisory Board, Dr Ian Oppermann said that the government must firstly look at how it classifies personal data.

“The challenge is basically this: if you’ve got a set of data, the test for whether this is personal data is a reasonableness test. Is it reasonably likely that you could reidentify a person, living or dead?” he told Information Age.

“Even if you could guarantee a low probability of risk of reidentification… if we can technically do it and we can legally do it, there’s still the issues of social license – and I think that’s the biggest challenge we’ve got.

“It’s different to the ethical question of ‘just because we can should we?’ It’s ‘the government has access to my data, do I trust them to do this effectively?’”

Oppermann, who last year led the development of ACS’s Data Sharing Frameworks technical white paper, also highlighted the need to share data at differing levels of granularity.

“The value of data dramatically increases the more specific it gets, in terms of personal information, special information, temporal information or relationship information,” he said.

“You can get a lot more out of it if you can get a lot more granular. But we don’t have thresholds for that granularity yet, other than really big SA1, SA2, SA3 and SA4,” he said in reference to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ hierarchical levels of data classification.

“Without those thresholds – those shades of grey – we go for black or white.”

The department will be taking submissions on the DS&R Bill up until 1 August 2018.