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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Surveillance questions in Victoria raise issues for us all.

The Victorian Law Reform Commission has released a Discussion Paper on Surveillance in Public Places. Chairperson of the commission, Neil Rees, said “surveillance affects all Victorians whether we are shopping, catching public transport, driving on major roads, or attending a sporting event”.

The paper proposes possible reforms that could better regulate surveillance in Victoria including a new role for an independent regulator, new best practice standards, mandatory codes to govern surveillance in public places with sanctions for non-compliance including civil and criminal penalties, a licensing system for some particularly privacy invasive practices and a new statutory obligation to refrain from committing a serious invasion of privacy, modelled on the statutory cause of action proposed recently by the ALRC.

Surveillance in public places is not just an issue for Victorians-it raises the same concerns everywhere. So strange to recall that in NSW in June 2007 the NSW Attorney General dismissed recommendations from the NSW Law Reform Commission about what should be done about this and related problems posed by surveillance devices.. This from a post at the time:
"Eleven years ago ( the Government) gave the NSW Law Reform Commission a reference on this issue. The Commission released an issues paper in 1997 and undertook further research before releasing an interim report in 2001. The then Attorney General, asked for further work to be done, and a final report was made available to the Attorney General in 2005.There the report sat in the 'in tray' until last week when the new Attorney General tabled it in Parliament, and then said the recommendations in the final report were rejected. The full text of the news release said that issues concerning surveillance in the workplace had already been the subject of specific legislation, and surveillance for law enforcement purposes was being looked at on a national basis."
What happened to the national initiative? I can recall a vague reference in a Standing Committee of Attorneys General communique but can't find anything on the web. If it came to nothing, how come Victoria is the only state where the issue is now commanding attention from our legal policy thinkers?

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