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April 30, 2012 – 4:20PM
Lia Timson

The edifaces of privacy that we once thought we understood are melting like ice in a heatwave.The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner was notified for 56 data breaches last financial year, more than one a week. Photo: Anthea Russo

Business told to prepare for more data breaches.

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner was notified of 56 data breaches in the last financial year, up from 44 the previous year.

The Privacy Commissioner, Timothy Pilgrim, also opened a further 59 investigations into other breaches, taking the number of investigations to 115.

Speaking at the launch of Privacy Awareness Week, Mr Pilgrim said there was evidence to suggest data breaches were on the rise, a fact corroborated by security researchers who say hacking attacks aimed at stealing personal information from websites and online businesses were on the rise in 2011.

Mr Pilgrim released updated guidelines to help businesses devise an information security plan and disclose breaches to affected individuals.

Australia does not have legislation that dictates organisations must disclose data breaches as is the case in the US, UK and Europe, although pressure is mounting on the government to introduce such laws.

“Serious harm can befall people when the security of their personal information is compromised”, Mr Pilgrim said. “It is our view that whenever there is a real risk of serious harm, affected individuals should be notified.”

Australian Information Commissioner John McMillan said the guide would assist organisations while legislative change was under consideration.

Professor McMillan said that there were benefits to organisations that voluntarily chose to notify.

“We can work with organisations to resolve issues quickly and help them contain a breach. This can help mitigate further harm to affected individuals.”

The Privacy Commissioner warned that in some circumstances, it may be a breach of the Privacy Act not to notify as organisations covered by the Privacy Act must take reasonable steps to protect the information they hold.

A number of high-profile security breaches impacted people in Australia last calendar year, including some at Telstra, First Super, ANZ Bank and the Sony Playstation Network.

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