The outgoing Victorian Privacy Commissioner Helen Versey has today reflected on her term in office, saying that despite her best efforts to educate and mediate, not all Victorian agencies are properly adhering to the Information Privacy Principles, saying that some still consider it an irritation.
Versey, who has spent 10 years within Privacy Victoria, and was appointed commissioner in March 2007, said in a statement today that if asked to assess Victorian agencies' progress around the Information Privacy Principles, she would describe agency adherence as "patchy".
"Some organisations have embraced their responsibilities, but there are still some that clearly simply see the Act as an irritation that should be afforded the barest resources."
Versey reflected that during her tenure, she has seen technology change the privacy landscape around the world, meaning that privacy concerns should be top of the agenda for every company, adding that it can only occur when the need for privacy guarantees is recognised at a board level.
"Technology today means that small mistakes can result in massive data breaches. Privacy needs to be part of every organisation's risk-management strategy. Most importantly, the organisations which are most successful in embracing the Privacy Principles are those where there is leadership from the top, and where sufficient resources are given to privacy and privacy awareness within the organisation.
"To be effective, privacy officers need to be supported at the highest level," she said.
Companies alone, however, aren't solely to blame for compromising the privacy of individuals, Versey added, saying that the proliferation of smartphones and social networking help people to do that on their own.
"When looking back over the last 10 years, what is striking is just how rapidly technology has changed the landscape. Back in 2001, mobile telephones didn't universally have cameras, GPS wasn't in general use as a navigational tool and Facebook and Twitter didn't exist.
"The result is now that individuals have the tools not only to be careless with their own personal information in potentially devastating ways, but also to seriously breach the privacy of others."
Versey lamented that it was regrettable that the Federal Government hadn't responded to the Victorian Law Reform Commission's recommendation for a right for individuals to pursue legal action when their privacy is breached by the use of surveillance in a public place, as well as the Australian Law Reform Commission's recommendation for a statutory cause of action for privacy breaches in general.
"Regrettably, the Federal Government has not responded to this recommendation, save for a recent media release by the Minister for Privacy and Freedom of Information [Brendan O'Connor] declaring that a public issues paper is to be released shortly canvassing the matter.
Given the extensive consultation by the ALRC before the release of its final report, it is difficult to understand why another public issues paper is necessary," the commissioner wondered.
Her statements were made in the opening letter of the 2010-11 Annual Report for the Office of the Victorian Privacy Commissioner (PDF), which revealed that this year it received 73 new complaints via online, email, fax and post submissions, an increase on last year's 53 complaints. The office also revealed that it had handled another 27 complaints it had carried over from last year, at a grand total of 100 complaints dealt with in 2010-11.