Attorney–General Announces National Privacy Review

The Australian Federal Government has announced a review of the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth). Attorney–General Philip Ruddock says the Australian Law Reform Commission will look at existing laws and practices across the country and consider changes in technology since the Act was introduced in 1988.

Given that technological developments pose the single greatest threat to individual privacy, it is pleasing to see the review emphasise the role of technology in shaping privacy law. According to this press release, The review will focus on questions including:

  • Do Australians have enough privacy protection for health, credit and other sensitive personal information?
  • Who can gain access to it?
  • Can it be traded, sold or provided to others?
  • Should privacy laws go beyond data protection to provide rights not to be photographed or subject to electronic surveillance?

“Protection of a person’s right to privacy is becoming increasingly important in the technological environment of the 21st century. It’s time to review how well existing privacy laws are working, and whether they are dealing adequately with emerging areas, such as internet use and off-shore call centres,” Professor McCrimmon said.

In considering Australian privacy law, one must also recognise that it can be used for nefarious (or simply recalcitrant) ends. Many legitimate requests seem to be refused for ‘privacy reasons’. Small businesses and non-profit organisations must now comply with an ungainly amount of red tape. In truth, privacy grounds are probably cited out of a desire to avoid the red tape and risk breaching what is, for many people, a needlessly complicated piece of legislation. Reducing the administrative burden of complying with privacy laws will have a more tangible impact on individual privacy than any other reform.

I am also hopeful that several of the more outrageous privacy myths will one day be dispelled.