THE AUSTRALIAN LAW Reform Commission (ALRC) will conduct a two-year long review of the federal Privacy Act 1988 after the federal government agreed to the recommendations of two separate inquiries into the Act.
Both the federal Privacy Commissioner and the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Commitee last year urged the government to allow the ALRC to conduct a more wide-ranging examination of the Act.
Both inquiries highlighted the difficulties faced by the co-regulatory scheme in the face of pervasive technological change and national security measures. Amendments extending the Privacy Act to the private sector commenced only a few months after the September 11 attacks.
“It is timely to respond to these recommendations and review the overall effectiveness of the Privacy Act to see where improvements can be made,” Ruddock said in a statement.
“This is an important area given the rapid technological advances in information and communication storage and surveillance.”
As well as the federal Act, the ALRC will also examine state and territory laws and practices and will consider the needs of individuals for privacy protection in light of evolving technology.
Both inquiries found there was an array of inconsistent laws and regulations protecting privacy in different jurisdictions across the country.
These include privacy acts in NSW and Victoria and both states also have separate laws dealing with the privacy of medical records. As well, NSW has recently updated its workplace surveillance laws to cover monitoring of email and internet use, and other states are considering similar moves.
Federal Privacy Commissioner Karen Curtis said rectifying and preventing further inconsistencies was probably the most important recommendation her office had made to the government.
The ALRC will also examine current and emerging international law in the privacy area and consider community perceptions of privacy and the extent to which it should be protected by legislation.