Digital Rights Watch has welcomed the news that after sustained pressure from privacy and health advocates, as well as Labor and the Greens in the Senate, the Government will extend the opt-out period of the My Health Record system through to January 31, 2019.

“This is a welcome step, and will allow all Australians to properly consider whether or not they are willing to hand over their personal medical information to the federal government,” said Digital Rights Watch Chair Tim Singleton Norton.

Under the initial plan, by the end of 2018, a My Health Record would be created for every Australian unless they choose not to have one. A three month opt-out period initially ran from 16 July to 15 October 2018, and was extended to 15 November after widespread concerns over access, security and privacy.

“A range of concerns have been raised in relation to this system since it was first proposed years ago, and whilst it was welcoming to see Health Minister Greg Hunt finally respond to these earlier this year, there are still ongoing concerns around the safety and security of individuals’ health information.”

“It is important to note that the Senate is still considering these proposed changes to the My Health Record system, and they are yet to be enshrined in law, so this extra time is certainly a smart step in what has otherwise been a completely bungled rollout. Every Australian should have all the information available to them when they make their decision.”

“This government has a long way to go if they wish to earn the trust of Australian citizens when it comes to handling personal information. Given this government’s track record on failing to protect your privacy, we’re certainly still encouraging people to opt-out.”

“We should all be able to have faith in government agencies to properly protect our personal data, but unfortunately we’ve seen countless examples of this failing, time and time again. This ranges from the decision to retain identifiable data in the 2016 national census, the Centrelink robo-debt debacle, and the mandatory metadata retention scheme.”

“This extension, whilst welcome, is the bare minimum that we need, given the inability of the department to run an opt-out website that doesn’t crash or a call centre that is able to cope with the volumes of calls it has been receiving. The opt-out option should remain permanent for all Australians,” he concluded.