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Monday, August 07, 2006

NSW Police dart and weave about privacy

In its report “Police bury years of sex abuse shame” on Saturday the Sydney Morning Herald quoted a spokeswoman for the NSW Police Commissioner that details of officers the subject of sexual misconduct complaints could not be released because of the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act.

In a letter ("Policy hypocrisy and secrecy- not privacy") to the SMH today (link no longer available), Anna Johnston, Chairwoman of the Australian Privacy Foundation said she “nearly choked” when she read that the NSW Police suddenly cared about privacy. She said the Police routinely release information about people suspected of crimes, but point to privacy obligations when it comes to protecting their own.

This is part of a broader problem in NSW about who and what is covered by NSW privacy laws.

The legislation is full of exemptions that constitute loopholes in the coverage of public sector agency conduct in dealing with personal information. The Police for example can when it suits, reject privacy complaints from members of the public on the grounds that the information relates to core policing functions that are not covered by the Act. On other occassions they have argued that review of a complaint by the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal should not be heard because it relates to an individual arising from a complaint against an officer under the Police Act.

As Anna Johnston points out, the privacy legislation also does not apply to information about an officer’s suitability for employment.

However on this occassion the Police take refuge in BOTPA - "Because of the Privacy Act".

This crazy patchwork application of the law has been well known to the NSW Government for years but has now been palmed off to the NSW Law Reform Commission.

They'll see that the same loopholes aren't available to the Australian Federal Police and the Victorian Police under Federal and Victorian privacy laws.

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