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Tasmania's new Smart Card causes privacy concerns

The World Today | June 6, 2005
By Tim Jeanes

That's the core of a debate emerging over a new Smart Card being offered to Tasmanians swapping over their Medicare cards from today. The new cards can be used to gain access to a patient's medical history, an important new medical tool according to proponents, but civil libertarians aren't so sure.

In Hobart, Tim Jeanes reports.

TIM JEANES: On the streets of Hobart this morning, the issue was generating a wide range of opinions.

VOX POP 1: I think it's a good thing. I think it's important that people have all that information at their fingertips in case of an emergency.

TIM JEANES: So you wouldn’t have any privacy concerns?

VOX POP 1: No, not at all.

VOX POP 2: I don't think that's good actually. There's people out there that you don't want people to know their business.

VOX POP 3: That's how society's going – identification and personal information's going to be available, it's happening now, and I think it's probably inevitable. Personally, yeah, I'd give it a go, yeah. I think it'd be okay.

TIM JEANES: That option is now a reality as of today, for any Tasmanian whose Medicare card expires. It's part of a widening trial with the new card containing a digital chip instead of a magnetic strip.

The card doesn't store information, instead it provides access to patient information stored elsewhere. It's this aspect of the trial which civil libertarians say could be open to abuse.

Greg Taylor is the Chair of Electronic Frontiers Australia.

GREG TAYLOR: These things have the potential to become a Big Brother tool in which your entire life history is recorded in one place and available to those who wish to utilise that information.

TIM JEANES: But what if it could genuinely save lives?

GREG TAYLOR: Well, that remains to be seen. We don't have an objection to the card per se, but we believe that there should be protections built in so that future uses of the card for purposes other than it was originally designed should be subject to very careful scrutiny.

TIM JEANES: Some opponents of the card are comparing it with the controversial Australia Card proposal of the 1980s, which sparked mass rallies around Australia. It's a suggestion rejected out of hand by Special Minister of State, Tasmanian Senator Eric Abetz.

ERIC ABETZ: This Medicare Smart Card is nothing like an Australia card. As technology develops, we as a government, I think, have a responsibility to see how we can deliver for the benefit of our citizens.

TIM JEANES: Senator Abetz says the practical applications of the card will be a big step forward for doctors and their patients.

ERIC ABETZ: A good example might be retirees travelling in their caravan in Queensland, one of the retirees gets a bad cut, goes to a doctor and the doctor wants to know when did you last have a tetanus booster.

The important thing is to ensure that the only people that have access to your medical records are people that you personally authorise. As is the case now with physical records, as is the case now with electronic records, all that the card would be is basically a card that would access information for you.

ELEANOR HALL: Special Minister of State Eric Abetz ending that report from Tim Jeanes.

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