The News of the World voicemail snooping saga has prompted the Australian Government to fast-track privacy reform, looking into whether Australians should have a statutory right to privacy.
Minister for Privacy, Brendan O'Connor, has said that although there are laws to deal with privacy breaches, there is no general right to privacy in Australia and no process to allow anyone to take legal action if their privacy had been invaded. The statutory right would mean that Australians would have the right to sue.
Privacy has come under the spotlight over the last year, not only through The News of the World saga, but also because of social networking and mobile media.
There was an uproar after it was revealed that Apple and, to an extent, Android and Windows Phone 7 devices could track and store a user's GPS location.
Facebook has also come under fire for various privacy settings, prompting the formation of a "privacy" social network called Diaspora and a global Quit Facebook day. Further, Google's unintentional capture of Wi-Fi information during its Street View mapping operations have continued to raise concerns over what level of privacy Australians should reasonably expect.
O'Connor today acknowledged technology's role in the ongoing erosion of privacy.
"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.
The government will release an issues paper for public consultation shortly, to discuss the introduction of a statutory cause of action for serious breaches of privacy.
Having a statutory right for privacy was a recommendation from the Australian Law Reform Commission's 2008 report into privacy legislation.
The guaranteed right to privacy was not set to be tackled yet, as it had been placed into the second tranche of issues to be looked at by the parliament along with data breach notification laws. Since the first tranche hasn't yet produced any new laws, there is no timeline for actioning the second tranche. Following O'Connor's statements today, however, it appears that the government is keen to move the issue up the parliamentary agenda.
Australia also has received some pressure on data breach notification laws, after meeting last week with attorneys-general from the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand.