Published on 3 September 2013.

Issue 1 | 3 September 2013.  View original format.

Welcome to the Inquiry

Welcome to the first enewsletter for the Invasions of Privacy Inquiry.

I am very honoured to have been asked to lead the Inquiry into how the law should redress serious invasions of privacy in the digital age.  It is an enormous challenge but we are fortunate at the ALRC that our task builds upon much work that has already been done by law reform commissions and others in Australia.  Many of the issues have been considered in previous reports, while the legal protection of privacy has been extensively debated in academic literature, in the legal profession, in the media, in the broader community and in larger inquiries about the role and future of the media.  There has been active and recent judicial development of privacy law by the courts of the United Kingdom and New Zealand which provides valuable guidance on the application of legal principles.

The inquiry is asked by its Terms of Reference to design a statutory cause of action for serious invasions of privacy but it is also asked to consider, more widely, other innovative ways in which the law could prevent or redress serious invasions of privacy.

In Australia, protection of privacy is not a blank legislative slate as there are a number of statutes which help protect privacy, directly and indirectly. Information privacy is regulated by federal and state statutes. There are also common or case law principles which help protect the privacy of individuals indirectly if not by name.

There are however significant gaps in legal protection and it seems that every day we learn about new technologies for the tracking or surveillance of others and about new ways to use and communicate information in all its forms.  Electronic communication, social media, internet search engines and e-commerce deliver countless benefits to society but of course bring risks to those who participate in its various forms and present challenges to the law to keep up.  One of the key considerations for the ALRC is how to ensure that any new protections would sit coherently with existing law but also be appropriate and adaptable to technological change in the future.

A perennial challenge for the law is how to develop privacy protection while also balancing other matters of great public interest and value: freedom of speech and expression, including media freedom to inform and investigate; open justice in our courts and transparent public administration; effective delivery of health and other essential services; protection of the vulnerable in society; the promotion of a vibrant and prosperous national economy and of Australia’s role in the global economy.

Privacy law affects not just government, big business and the media. It affects a range of occupations and activities in all kinds of social contexts. It has the potential to affect everyone, so we look forward to widespread public participation throughout the Inquiry, through consultations and the submission process.

Barbara McDonald,
Lead Commissioner

Timeline and process

Research and consultations are well underway and will continue into mid September. While the exact timing is not fixed at this stage, we expect to release an Issues Paper in late September. The Issues Paper will provide an overview of issues surrounding the inquiry and will ask a series of questions that have arisen through our research and consultations. With the release of the Issues Paper we will call for submissions from the public.

We expect to release a second consultation document, a Discussion Paper, in late February. This will provide a detailed account of ALRC research to that point, including a summary of consultations and submissions, and will set out draft proposals for reform. At that stage we will again call for submissions.

Face to face consultations with key stakeholders will continue throughout the Inquiry, however the main opportunity for community input is through submissions to the Issues and Discussion Papers. We strongly encourage participation through the submission process. We’ll let you know via this enews when submissions open.

You can also keep up to date with the ALRC’s work via our Twitter feed.

More on the ALRC law reform process