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Monday, 26 March 2018 12:00

After Facebook leak, why should pollies have privacy exemptions?

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Everyone and his/her dog has been up in arms against Facebook ever since the recent revelations that the company allowed user data of tens of millions to seep away into the control of a third party.

But what about political parties in Australia who enjoy an exemption from privacy law in using Australians' personal data for political purposes?

Why should a group who have enjoyed this privilege since the year 2000 continue to be able to manipulate our data for any purpose at all? especially now that we all know the extent of what is available for grabs.

Both the major parties, Labor and the Coalition, unsurprisingly continue to back the privacy exemptions.

The odd one out is the Greens who would like to have it removed. Last week, the Greens' spokesman on matters digital, Jordon Steele-John, spoke out condemning Cambridge Analytica, the company behind the data perving, and asking for a review of privacy regulations in Australia including the removal of absolute exemptions in the privacy act for politicians and political parties.

Steele-John did not mince his words. “The first question that comes to my mind is ‘Why does the government maintain that this exemption is appropriate in the modern data environment, and what have they got to hide?'" he asked.

“The Greens have never supported section 7c of the Privacy Act because it is a legislated threat to the integrity of our democracy and to the rights of all Australian citizens.

“Whilst it’s likely that all political parties use databases to engage with their voters and constituents, they are exempt from privacy laws so there is no transparency – and this exemption extends to third parties like Cambridge Analytica who might have much more extensive and intrusive databases.

“At the end of the day Facebook is a big part of the problem and must take responsibility here; they have allowed personal information to be mined without the consent of Facebook users and this data is now within the reach of entities looking to influence politics in Australia."

Why should politicians be able to buy such data — and it is available for sale everywhere — with taxpayer money and then use it against the same people who provided the funds?

Labor claims to take the high moral ground on many issues, but on this, it is at one with the Turnbull Government. In actual practice, Labor does not have even a figleaf to cover itself on this score - but then who will go after the party and make it accountable? Nobody, because then they would also have to target the Libs and their buddies.

I guess one can always use the defence that it is playing hard but fair. One needs to remember, however, that this was the same defence used by the Australian cricket team – until it was exposed on Sunday by the sight of Cameron Bancroft stuffing sandpaper down his jocks. That day may be around the corner for our pollies.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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