WITH THE Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) recently launching a review of the adequacy and relevance of privacy safeguards, the New Zealand Law Commission also announced last month that privacy has been included in their new program.
ALRC president Professor David Weisbrot said at the commencement of the inquiry that a review of privacy laws and practices was crucial at this time, given the rapid technological advances in information, communication, storage, and surveillance since Australia’s privacy legislation was first developed in the 1980s.
“We potentially give away private, personal information every time we shop over the Internet or with a credit card, apply for a job, go to the doctor or other health professional, or even enter a competition,” said Weisbrot. “There are now real issues as to how securely information is stored, how it is used, and who has access to it.”
One of the challenges facing the ALRC is the provision of a legal framework that provides adequate protection for personal privacy, while minimising the regulatory burden on business,” said ALRC Commissioner Associate Professor Les McCrimmon, who is leading Australia’s privacy inquiry.
The Australian inquiry is looking at the extent to which the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) and related laws provide an effective framework for the protection of privacy.
On 9 October, the ALRC released an Issues Paper, Review of Privacy (IP 31), which outlines the scope of the review and seeks stakeholder feedback on 142 questions. A second Issues Paper (IP 32), focusing on consumer credit reporting provisions, is also planned, with a more detailed Discussion Paper, containing the preliminary proposals for reform for community discussion. The final report is scheduled to be delivered to the Australian Attorney-General by 31 March 2008.
“Computers now have an amazing capacity to capture, store, and match personal information that is routinely collected,” said Weinsbrot on release of IP 31, “Just by surfing the web, you may reveal vast amounts of personal information, often without your knowledge — for example, your health, education, credit history, and sexual or political orientation. There’s the potential for this information to be matched with information in other databases, to create comprehensive profiles of individuals.”
Weinsbrot said the ALRC wants to know how concerned Australians are about these issues, as well as what they want done about it. “We also want to know if tech-savvy young people who have grown up in a ‘surveillance society’ have different views than their parents.”
Facing a ‘brave new world’ in terms of how technology impacts on privacy, Weisbrot said the ALRC needs to think about “where to draw the line in safeguarding the privacy of individuals”.
Also at issue, said McCrimmon, is the complexity of Australia’s privacy regulations. “Simplifying the privacy regime will reduce red tape, assist compliance, and ensure privacy obligations don’t place too much of a time and financial burden on organisations, especially small businesses.”
The Australian project will be of considerable assistance to the New Zealand Law Commission, said Palmer, who was in discussions about it in Sydney with the ALRC last week.
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