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Privacy review unnecessary: lawyer

Privacy review unnecessary: lawyer

Further privacy laws are unnecessary and could easily "go too far", according to media lawyers.Peter Campbell, a partner at Adelaide firm Kelly and Co, told Lawyers Weekly the proposed…

Further privacy laws are unnecessary and could easily "go too far", according to media lawyers.

Peter Campbell, a partner at Adelaide firm Kelly and Co, told Lawyers Weekly the proposed government reforms are "fixing something that isn't broken" and could go too far if they mimic the UK's blanket right to privacy.

"Some of the situations [in the UK] in which [privacy] orders have been made have been completely over the top," he said. "It's really concerning for media because it's a fairly chilling order that can be made on freedom of press and what can be said."

Privacy Minister Brendan O'Connor last week announced that a review of Australia's privacy laws was a "public expectation" following the UK's News of the World phone hacking scandal.

But media law experts have warned that introducing any statutory right to privacy (as recommended by a 2008 Australian Law Reform Commission report) could stifle investigative journalism and normal, everyday reporting.

Nicholas Pullen, a media and communications partner at HWL Ebsworth, warned against any "knee jerk" political reaction to the News of the World scandal in The Australian last week, as did lawyer for News Ltd Justin Quill, who said the proposed new laws would be for the benefit of politicians and the rich and famous.

"We will see the rich and famous bringing actions [and] paying off the pools and Ferraris a little bit quicker ... not the average punter trying to protect their privacy," Quill told The Australian.

According to Campbell, organisations and even the courts in Australia are already too wary of breaching privacy laws when it comes to sharing "perfectly harmless, appropriate and public information".

"When we apply to obtain materials from court files we've had court officials say, 'That wouldn't be appropriate, that might offend that person's right of privacy' and we constantly have to explain what the restrictions really are and that they needn't be concerned," he said.

Campbell also feels that existing privacy protections have been instrumental in ensuring Australia enjoys a largely ethical and responsible media. Rights are protected under the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act, the Commonwealth Criminal Code, defamation laws and specific state-based restrictions on certain types of filming and listening devices.

"The mix of [laws] that exist are sufficient to target offences that are most objectionable and deal with them in that way, rather than having a blanket privacy right," said Campbell.

While there is an argument that Australia's privacy laws need to be consolidated and that people shouldn't have to trawl through many different statues to find what information they're entitled to, Campbell said there should be a specific policy rather than a broad based right of privacy.

"There needs to be real caution in going too far and setting up something which has unintended consequences - like privacy injunctions and actions for compensation - on the normal, everyday reporting transactions and communications that, up until now, have been fine," he said.

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