Privacy Minister proposes Credit Reporting Code of Conduct

Consumer protection against privacy intrusion a planned outcome

The development of a new Credit Reporting Code of Conduct designed to provide better consumer protection and guidance for business on key issues such as privacy will be discussed at a roundtable in Canberra next month.

Minister for Privacy, Brendan O’Connor, said in a statement that under the Privacy Act, financial institutions are required to protect consumers’ private information, including details they use to assess a customers’ eligibility for banking products.

“A binding Code of Conduct will be an integral part of the new credit reporting regime, helping to provide better protection for consumers and better guidance for business,” said O’Connor.

He said the Code will encompass more specific rules around access to clients’ personal information, data accuracy and complaint handling than is currently possible to include in legislation.

“The roundtable will contribute to the development of the industry-led Code, and will provide an open forum for interested parties to discuss any outstanding issues of concern," he said.

The meeting will take place at Parliament House on 10 February. O’Connor has invited credit reporting agencies, finance companies, and consumer and privacy advocates to participate and create an industry agreed Code of Conduct.

Australian Privacy Foundation public officer, Nigel Waters, said consumer privacy is a huge issue for the industry.

“Financial affairs are amongst the most sensitive of personal information, yet there is major government sanctioned intrusion not just in ‘compulsory’ credit reporting but also financial transaction reporting under the Anti Money Laundering and Counter Terrorism Financing Act of 2006 ,” he said.

“Given this legislated intrusion, it’s all the more important that there are strict rules and safeguards and that these are enforced effectively,” he added.

According to Waters, there have been a number of breaches since credit reporting rules were introduced in 1990 followed by general private sector privacy rules in 2001.

A Privacy Commision annual report from 2010 found that of the 1200 complaints received during the year, 19.1 per cent were about credit reporting.

He said the Foundation wants to see financial privacy rules strengthened as a result of the Code development.

“Also important in the short term is credit reporting legislation to be released soon as an Exposure Draft and considered by the Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee over the next few months,” he said.

“Amendments (in credit reporting legislation) will allow for additional reporting, which will increase government intrusion, but we have managed to secure strict limits on use of the new information which will need to be enforced,” said Waters.

He added that the Foundation prefer controls to be in the legislation rather than left to the Code. “This should in our view only deal with the operational detail, not key issues,” he said.

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