"Big data" may seem like something out of a George Orwell novel

But the use, and possible sale, of big data – personal information held by local, state and federal government and industry – is about to become a big issue for all Australians.

The Abbott government is seeking to find ways to use the wealth of information held by departments and agencies to provide better services – and potentially be sold to the private sector to help balance the budget.

At the 2013 federal election, the coalition laid out a policy for e-government and the digital economy.

One of its planks involves agencies, researchers and the private sector working together on projects to make better use of some of the thousands of datasets held by departments.

Governments hold a wide range of information, from tax records to welfare payments, traffic fines to property values.

High-profile cases of privacy breaches have made many wary of personal records being swapped between departments or handed over to private corporations.

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