Following on from its move to fast track the issue of whether Australians should have a statutory right to privacy, the Minister for Privacy and Freedom of Information Brendan O'Connor today released an issues paper to discuss proposed legislation on the topic.
The issues paper is in response to a 2008 Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) proposal that legislation be introduced to allow Australians to take legal action if they feel that their privacy has been seriously invaded. As it currently stands, Australians have no legal right to privacy, and cannot take legal action when their privacy is invaded.
Before mass adoption of devices such as smartphones and the use of social networks, privacy had been a relatively simple issue, with O'Connor stating in the paper he released today that serious invasions are infrequent. However, he said that advances have made the issue more complex, and that discussion is now warranted as to whether legislation that gives Australians the right to privacy is appropriate.
Among other issues, the paper asked for comment on whether Australia should consider implementing additional means of protecting individuals' privacy in response to technological advancements. It states that while technology can be used to enrich the lives of Australians, it also makes it much easier for personal or sensitive information about an individual's private life to be shared or sold.
"As technology that can more easily be used to invade privacy develops, it becomes all the more appropriate to ask whether current privacy laws are adequate to protect personal privacy," the paper reads.
The paper also raised the question of whether legislation should be enacted at the Commonwealth and/or state levels. The ALRC and the NSW Law Reform Council are split on this.
Another issue raised in the paper was that freedom of expression or artistic expression may be limited through legislation, particularly representations of what is occurring in public spaces, such as street artists and photographers. It said that if legislation would cast too wide a net, or would not include sufficient defences, it could impose unfair liabilities, or expose artists and photographers to costly legal action for behaviour that is acceptable today with regards to privacy. O'Connor said that if legislation is to be put in place, it would need to strike a balance between the right to privacy and freedom of expression.
The issues paper is available online (PDF), and is open to submissions for six weeks until 4 November.
The right to privacy is one of 295 changes to Australian privacy law recommended by the ALRC in November 2008. While the government has responded to 197 of the recommendations, several other issues remain unconsidered, including the introduction of data breach notification laws.