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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Long wait but privacy cause of action gets to discussion stage

Good and welcome news, and a timely shift from the previous insistence that the government would get around to this next year-in the fullness of time and all that.

Minister for Privacy and Freedom of Information Brendan O"Connor has announced a consultation on the statutory cause of action for a serious and unwarranted breach of privacy. A public issues paper will be issued shortly, canvassing the prospect,
“Right now there is no general right to privacy in Australia, and that means there’s no certainty for anyone wanting to sue for an invasion of their privacy,” Mr O’Connor said. “The News of the World scandal and other recent mass breaches of privacy, both at home and abroad, have put the spotlight on whether there should be such a right.” “This Government strongly believes in the principle of freedom of expression and also the right to privacy. Any changes to our laws will have to strike a balance between the two ideals.” “We know that privacy is a growing concern for everyday Australians – whether it is in our dealings with individuals, businesses, government agencies or the media,” he said. “Privacy is emerging as a defining issue of the modern era, especially as new technology provides more opportunities for communication, but also new challenges to privacy.” “I’m keen to hear from everyone with a stake in the privacy debate – that includes individuals, businesses and of course the media,” Mr O’Connor said.
The majors had a heads up. Sydney Morning Herald gave it the page one lead. The Australian in an editorial that asks what all the big fuss in the UK is really about and why anyone is asking questions here (clue-it's something  to do with the power of the media, how it is exercised in the name of the public interest, who forms part of the  Fourth Estate, what if any responsibilities go with that, and how they are observed) throws the cause of action issue into the mix, describing the suggestion as "an extraordinary leap from the British phone hacking scandal to Australia, where such practices are unknown in journalism and already illegal." They would say that wouldn't they? Someone's not been following since the then government thought privacy laws needed to be looked at five years ago, leading to the ALRC report and recommendation three years ago.

Let discussion begin.

As the Australian Privacy Foundation in welcoming this development points out 
When the APF published its Policy Statement on 'Privacy and the Media' (in March 2009) it sought discussions with News Ltd, the ABC, the Press Council and Media Alliance about its proposals. It also suggested to research centres at leading universities that they run seminars on the proposals. Not one of those organisations has ever provided a constructive response.

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