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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Raising your privacy awareness

A couple of things from Privacy Awareness Week last week- what you missed it?

Former High Court Justice Michael Kirby, and a major figure in the development of thinking about information privacy in the eighties in his capacity at the time as President of the Australian Law Reform Commission, spoke at an event organised by the Federal Privacy Commissioner. According to this report by Karen Meade in The Australian, Mr Kirby said technological developments mean the practical end of the "use" principle that personal information collected for one purpose can only be used for that purpose except in limited circumstances.
"When the limitation of use principle was originally formulated, it allowed you to keep control over the data shadow you send out when information of a private character is collected (for use by businesses and government agencies). That became inappropriate when internet technologies came along 20 years later. "Likewise, we now know that if you are in public places, you can be caught out (on camera) cleaning your ear, or picking your nose and, in those countries that permit the televising of courts, an occasional judge can be caught out having a nap."
But Mr Kirby said the "enormous blessings" of new technologies required regulators to take a balanced view on personal privacy, especially as these technologies have significantly changed society's attitudes."

I imagine those hostile to the idea- mainly some powerful voices in the media- would say "he would say that wouldn't he"- but Mr Kirby commented as follows on one of the issues of the day:
"..the federal Government should seriously consider the introduction of a new tort to deal with instances of "serious invasions of privacy", as recommended by the Australian Law Reform Commission in its landmark review of privacy and data protection. "While media reports suggest the notion of giving people the right to sue for serious invasions of privacy would put an end to the media's capacity to investigate and report on matters of public interest, this proposal is actually quite modest," he said. "Would we really consider it wrong for Australian law to deliver a remedy in a case where there has been an interference with an individual's home or family life? Or where an individual has been subjected to unauthorised surveillance, private communications have been misused or disclosed, or where sensitive facts relating to an individual's private life have been disclosed?"
The Federal Privacy Commissioner also put out a raft of useful materials on privacy issues last week including some new information sheets for public and private sector organisations and a report on portable storage devices and privacy related issues.

The Commissioner also published some new case notes. One relates to an "own-motion" investigation into a medical centre after "medical documents, including patients' prescriptions and pathology results, were found scattered in a public park next door. The name of the centre was visible on some of the documents. The documents included patients' names, addresses and phone numbers. The information given to the Commissioner suggested that the documents had come from a large bin at the rear of the private medical centre." Vandals at it again apparently- the Commissioner was satisfied after intervention that action had been taken to prevent a reoccurence.

Some useful stuff also released last week by the Victorian Privacy Commissioner including the joint initiative by regional bodies "Think before you upload!" a short animated video which aims to highlight the possible risks for young people of using on-line technologies such as social networking and gaming sites.

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