"Don't say words you're gonna regret": ALRC Privacy Invasion Review seeks input

Thursday 10 October 2013 @ 9.10 a.m. | IP & Media | Trade & Commerce

The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) has advised by way of a media post to its website that it has released an Issues Paper entitled: Serious Invasions of Privacy in the Digital Era (the paper is cited as ALRC Issues Paper 43, 2013). The issues paper is released by the ALRC to begin the consultation process for its inquiry into this area.

Inquiry is timely

The consideration of these issues comes at an interesting and important time when as an ABC news report's headline -  "Internet users shouldn't expect privacy, expert says . . ." illustrates there are those who have already given up on privacy laws.

The expert quoted by ABC news, Mr Andy Start (president of global government business for Inmarsat) is further quoted as saying:-

"It's true to say that you shouldn't be doing anything in cyberspace that you wouldn't do in public. If you're ashamed to do it in front of your grandma you probably don't want to do it on the Internet,"

Mr Start then explains to the ABC that developments in technology mean any thought of Internet privacy is "irrelevant" and further that "already any government agency that wants to know what an individual is doing has the ability to track them".

In the light of such views in the business and technology community the notification by the ALRC that it is continuing to investigate and seeking to improve privacy law is reassuring and timely because the reality is that privacy law affects not just government, big business and the media, but a range of occupations and activities in all kinds of social contexts - in other words it has the potential to affect everyone.

Nature of ALRC inquiry

The Terms of Reference for the ALRC Inquiry are primarily to consider the detailed legal design of a statutory cause of action, and additionally, other innovative ways the law might prevent or redress serious invasions of privacy. Key among the considerations for the ALRC, according to its website, are ensuring that any new protection would be compatible with existing privacy laws and regulations and that any proposed legislation is able to adapt to future technological changes, while not being so vague as to cause uncertainty.

Professor Barbara McDonald the ALRC Commissioner heading the inquiry explains the purpose as follows on the ALRC site:

“Although there has been significant privacy reform in recent years, there are still gaps in the legal protection of privacy. The digital era has created further challenges for the law, as, every day, we learn about new technologies for the tracking or surveillance of others and about new ways in which organisations and individuals may use and communicate all sorts of private information online. The task of designing a civil action to allow people to sue for serious invasion of privacy requires a careful balancing of legitimate interests in privacy with other matters of public interest including freedom of speech and expression, media freedom to inform and investigate, the effective delivery of services including healthcare, and the promotion of a vibrant and prosperous national economy.”

The ALRC sees the Issues Paper as building on its previous work in 2008, and its work with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in 2011, and more recently the work of both the NSW and Victorian Law Reform Commissions.

In seeking submissions the ALRC is: "not just [looking for] issues relating to a stand-alone cause of action but also about alternative ways that existing laws could be supplemented or amended to provide more and appropriate protection for privacy in the digital era".

How to make submissions

Written submissions can be posted to the Executive Director, ALRC, GPO Box 3708 Sydney NSW 2001 or emailed to info@alrc.gov.au.

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