Privacy red tape baffles council

COUNCILLORS' minds are “boggled” by a new state privacy act that looks set to create major headaches for local authorities.

The Information Privacy Act 2009, which came into force from 1 July 2010, is supposed to safeguard the handling of personal information in the public sector, but so far has baffled elected officials and bureaucrats alike as they panic over facing potential legal action.

With a number of amendments to the act due to address conflicts it has with other pieces of legislation, council will be forced to take a no-nonsense approach until state government irons out the creases.

Possibly the biggest change in what CEO Rod Ferguson described as “huge red tape bureaucracy” is the fact council meeting agendas will no longer appear online. Council will only be able to list items for discussion as it cannot risk “promoting private information.”

This will hugely impact planning applicants and objectors. Newspapers are still able to publish what is said in open council meetings.

Mayor Ron Bellingham asked how long the “interim” period was expected to last.

Mr Ferguson said meetings were being held with the Attorney-General to try and establish the extent of the effects.

He said they have to make allowances for information provided to insurance companies, estate agents and even for council Blackberries because they run from a server in Canada, which breaches the act as is because information is sent overseas.

Minutes will still be published.

Notices will have to be printed on the bottom of all council forms that collect information, for example development applications, which states that council has the authority to collect the information and who it may dispose the information to.

Mr Ferguson said council may even have to create a formal statement for when information is collected orally.

“It's crazy,” Cr Mally McMurtrie said.

Mayor Bellingham agreed: “We're supposed to be an open and accountable organisation. When you try to imbed in legislation it's obvious the minefield you get yourself into.

“The mind boggles. I just ask, where are we going?”

The issue came up in yesterday's corporate services committee meeting where a proposed lease of council land report appeared in the public agenda.

CEO Rod Ferguson said it wasn't confidential because the submitter's name was not included.

This irritated Cr Ross Bartley who refused to move the motion.

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