This week in data – January 25th

The fallout continues from an Australian Federal Court ruling last week which saw the definition of personal information narrowed as it relates to metadata. What’s the story?

Last week, the Federal Court sided with Telstra and agreed that the metadata attached to Fairfax Journalist Ben Grubb’s mobile phone number and Telstra account was not metadata specifically about Ben; it was “not information about an individual whose identity can reasonably be ascertained from the information in isolation”. Instead, the metadata that Telstra retained — and continues to retain — is in reference to the account but not the account owner, even if the owner is inextricably tied to the account.

The judgement relates to a long-running case between Fairfax journo Ben Grubb and Telstra which started back in 2013 when Ben, exploring the privacy implications of the recently passed data retention laws, was displeased that Telstra would not supply him with detailed account metadata he assumed he was entitled to see under Australia’s Privacy Act.

Last week’s judgement about what constitutes ‘personal information’ when it comes to data collection and privacy management is particularly poignant given the recent focus on government reforms into data availability and use.

While some have decried the judgement as a ‘gutting’ of Australian privacy law, others, like Salinger privacy have taken a more balanced view, contextualizing the judgement as it related to applicable privacy law in 2013. In summary:

  • The media focus on the judgement is somewhat of a storm in a teacup given the extremely narrow focus of the appeal.
  • The varied misunderstanding and public concern over the ruling about what constitutes ‘personal information’ this week has further emphasized the need for the Productivity Commission and government to take a more proactive approach to building consumer understanding and trust in data regulation.


  • Speaking of government reform on data practices, this piece from The Mandarin provides a good summary of the responses from Privacy Commissioner, Timothy Pilgrim and National Archives director-general David Fricker to the Productivity Commission’s recent draft report into data availability and use.

  • Data Governance Australia, the data standards industry body, of which Data Republic, Qantas, NAB, Westpac, Coles, IAG, Veda, Woolworths, Quantium and Scentre Group are members, has also made a post-draft submission to the Productivity Commission outlining member responses and questions surrounding the Productivity Commission’s draft report.

 In other news….

  • Cambridge Analytica, the data analytics firm behind President Trump’s sometimes decisive campaign have shared some of their winning big data tactics for political campaigning and announced that a move into the Australian political sphere is not ‘off-the-cards’.

Until next week.

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