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No cookie-cutter laws for Australia

EU cookies Directive not entirely ignored down Canberra way

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The European Union's directive that website operators must not use cookies to gather visitors' personal information won't be adopted in Australia, but the idea behind the directive may yet be offered as advice to local businesses and government agencies.

The Reg asked The Australian Government Information Office (AGIMO), The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) and The Privacy Commissioner if they intend to follow the European directive. We felt it worth doing so given that the Directive has been widely ignored, while the UK has even gone so far as to ignore its call for opt-in use of cookies by saying consent can often be implied.

DBCDE offered the clearest statement on the topic, telling us that the Department is aware of consumer anxiety over the use of information, notes the advent of Do Not Track and feels “The online telecommunications industry is being proactive on this issue.”

The Department says there is therefore “no specific Australian privacy policy replicating the European Union ‘cookie law’,” but left a door open for future measures by saying “The Government continues to monitor international developments that aim to improve consumer confidence and protection in the online environment.”

The Privacy Commissioner, who now operates under the umbrella of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC), sent us a motherhood statement to the effect that it hopes business actively manage and operate transparently in terms of “how personal information is collected, used and disclosed,” and also how it is secured.

A sokesperson added Commissioner then said “The OAIC has examined the EU Directive and is considering whether to issue specific advice to Australian businesses using cookies on websites.”

We weren't quite sure if that meant an advice is being worked on, or if an advice is being considered, so we pressed and were told “We are not aware of any plans to issue an EU-style Directive on cookies in Australia. The OAIC is considering whether additional advice is needed as a supplement to the ongoing privacy law reform process that is currently underway.”

That reform is currently being played out in the form of a new Privacy Code, detailed here, that is currently before Parliament. The new Code makes no explicit mention of cookies and its main additions concern financial records and use of information for direct marketing.

AGIMO's response pointed out that government agencies must comply with the Privacy Act, and will therefore have to comply with any amendments. The Office said it has no plans for additional guidance beyond the content of its current Web Guide on the topic. ®

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