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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Privacy and the right to sue

One of the issues being looked at by the Australian Law Reform Commission/NSW Law Reform Commission review of privacy laws, is the desirability of introducing a statutory right to sue for a breach of privacy.

This article in the media section of The Australian "Privacy law to hit press freedom" seems a bit premature, and to my mind a bit precious.

It sounds as if the NSW Law Reform Commission which has prime carriage of this part of the review will make a positive recommendation. At this stage however virtually no information has been made available. To say that simply introducing such a right will "limit free speech" is a bit rich at this stage.

Any course of action should ensure that those in public life have less rights to privacy than the rest of us, but that doesn't mean the media have a right to barge in the bedroom or anywhere else.

Journalists after all currently claim to adhere to a code of conduct. Point 11 says "Respect private grief and personal privacy. Journalists have the right to resist compulsion to intrude".

Giving some definition to "personal privacy" and backing it up with a right to take action in certain circumstances doesn't seem to be a bad idea.

NSW privacy laws have included a statutory right to damages up to $40,000 where the Administrative Decisions Tribunal finds a public sector agency in breach of a privacy principle and the person affected can demonstrate loss or damage as a result. There have been only a handful of cases where an award of a few thousand dollars have been made since 2001.

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