Members of the public will have a say in potential changes to Australia's privacy laws in the wake of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, the Minister for Privacy announced on 21 July.
Brendan O'Connor said the Gillard Government will call on the public to give their views on introducing a statutory cause of action for serious invasions of privacy.
"Right now there is no general right to privacy in Australia, and that means there's no certainty for anyone wanting to sue for an invasion of their privacy," O'Connor said in a statement.
"The News of the World scandal and other recent mass breaches of privacy, both at home and abroad, have put the spotlight on whether there should be such a right.
"This Government strongly believes in the principle of freedom of expression and also the right to privacy. Any changes to our laws will have to strike a balance between the two ideals."
O'Conner added that he believes privacy is a growing concern for everyday Australians, whether through dealings with individuals, businesses, government agencies or the media.
"Privacy is emerging as a defining issue of the modern era, especially as new technology provides more opportunities for communication, but also new challenges to privacy," he said.
In 2008, the Australian Law Reform Commission released a report on privacy laws and made 295 recommendations for changes to privacy regulation and policy. These included a proposal to introduce a statutory cause of action for serious breaches of privacy.
According to Holding Redlich partner Ian Robertson, debate about a tort of privacy is long overdue.
"What we need in this country is robust political debate," he told Lawyers Weekly last week. "I don't think the quality of our society would be harmed, even a little bit, if people were able to protect their truly private information - unless there was an overriding public interest for it to be disclosed."
O'Connor said that an issues paper will soon be released, followed by a period of public consultation will follow.
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