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Friday, March 31, 2006

NZ privacy damages case touches off national debate

The ABC Radio National Law Report this week focused on criminals and privacy. The program includes a discussion of a recent NZ case in which a paedophile was awarded $25,000 in a civil suit alleging breach of privacy by the Police Service. The case and the commentary in the program demonstrate the clash of principles - a police officer’s judgment about an obligation to warn, and another individual’s right to privacy. The judge decided against the Police on the grounds that distribution of a leaflet with photograph to those in the area where he lived was not in the public interest. The Police apparently took matters into their own hands as a result of a refusal by Parole authorities to discuss the matter with them.

The case and the court decision has been a hot topic in NZ. Australian courts to date (with one exception) have not recognised an actionable right to damages on privacy grounds.

The Dean of Law at Deakin University proposes a simple solution – everyone’s criminal history should be a matter of public record. The Dean, Mirko Bagaric, has plenty of controversial views on a range of topics perhaps the best known being his views about the case for legalised torture.

The program also includes a discussion of the practice of a Sydney suburban pharmacy which photographs “shoplifters” and displays the photographs with captions in the front window. They claim not to have received complaints on privacy grounds.

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