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Government failed to conduct privacy impact assessments on 90pc of security measures

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The Government has failed to conduct proper privacy impact assessments on almost 90 per cent of national security measures passed, according to independent research.

A biometric acquisition system is displayed Photo: The Federal Government recently passed legislation to strengthen its biometrics collection at Australia’s borders. (AAP: Alan Porritt)

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Map: Australia

The Federal Government has failed to conduct proper privacy impact assessments on almost 90 per cent of the national security measures it has passed in the last 14 years, according to independent research.

Just like an environmental impact assessment on mining or development proposals, privacy impact assessments (PIAs) are supposed to be carried out whenever new intrusive laws or practices are proposed.

PIAs are supposed to be done with public consultation and community debate, to ensure the Government does not collect more information than it needs and that the information is stored securely.

But long-time privacy advocate Roger Clarke told Lateline that since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, Australia has passed about 72 security-related measures — from increasing electronic spying, to metadata and biometrics.

Mr Clarke recently completed research that found only 20 of those laws had any kind of PIA and of those, half were done in secret without any public consultation.

“The track record of government agencies is appalling on this matter,” he said.

“Of the 72 projects that I’ve looked at a grand total of three have been performed as they should have been performed and a grand total of five or possibly seven have been properly published.”

Do you know more about this story? Please email lateline@your.abc.net.au

There is an expectation post-Snowden that governments should be better and more transparent about why and how they’re doing things.

David Wells, intelligence analyst

Mr Clarke said the Attorney-General’s Department had the worst track record.

“It’s a performance you’d expect would be about the best because they’ve got the greatest sensitivity about what they’re doing. They’re easily the worst performer,” he said.

The Attorney-General’s Department said they were not obliged to do PIAs although they were routinely undertaken.

The Department did not answer Lateline’s questions about how many PIAs it had done or how many had been published.

Privacy measures ‘handled with contempt’

Just two weeks ago, the Federal Government passed its latest national security legislation.

The Migration Amendment, to strengthen biometrics collection, expanded the Government’s capability to collect highly personal biometrics from everyone at Australia’s borders — including for the first time — Australian citizens.

The information can include everything from finger and hand prints, iris scans and facial recognition.

Greens senator Scott Ludlam argues that the Government did not allow enough public consultation on the bill’s PIA.

“People were demanding that that be produced and tabled all the way through the debate on this bill,” he said.

“It was tabled at the end of the debate. And that goes to how seriously are we expected to believe the Government takes these documents when they’re handled with such contempt.”

Former British and Australian intelligence analyst David Wells said that while it may be difficult for the Government to explain why new powers are important, it is in their best interest to do so to ensure they get public support.

“There is an expectation post-Snowden that governments should be better and more transparent about why and how they’re doing things,” he said.

“I think governments are taking a while to respond to that need.

“There’s a definite tendency to raise the security flag and hope that that’s enough and I don’t think it necessarily is.”

Watch Margot O’Neill’s full report on Lateline tonight at 9.30pm (AEST) on ABC News 24 or 10:30pm on ABC TV.

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