Published on 8 October 2013.

The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) today released the Issues Paper, Serious Invasions of Privacy in the Digital Era (ALRC Issues Paper 43, 2013), to begin the consultation process for its Inquiry. 

The Terms of Reference for this Inquiry ask the ALRC to consider the detailed legal design of a statutory cause of action, and in addition, other innovative ways the law might prevent or redress serious invasions of privacy.

ALRC Commissioner for the Inquiry, Professor Barbara McDonald, said “Although there has been significant privacy reform in recent years, there are still gaps in the legal protection of privacy. The digital era has created further challenges for the law, as, every day, we learn about new technologies for the tracking or surveillance of others and about new ways in which organisations and individuals may use and communicate all sorts of private information online.  The task of designing a civil action to allow people to sue for serious invasion of privacy requires a careful balancing of legitimate interests in privacy with other matters of public interest including freedom of speech and expression, media freedom to inform and investigate, the effective delivery of services including healthcare, and the promotion of a vibrant and prosperous national economy.”

Key considerations for the ALRC include ensuring that any new protection would be compatible with existing privacy laws and regulation and that any proposed legislation is adaptable to future technological changes, but not so vague as to cause uncertainty.

The Issues Paper builds on work previously undertaken by the ALRC in 2008 and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in 2011, and the recent work of both the NSW and Victorian Law Reform Commissions. It asks for submissions not just on issues relating to a stand-alone cause of action but also about alternative ways that existing laws could be supplemented or amended to provide more and appropriate protection for privacy in the digital era.

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. The ALRC invites individuals and organisations to make submissions in response to the questions contained in the Issues Paper, or to any of the background material and analysis provided.  This community input will help inform the development of draft recommendations for reform to be released in a Discussion Paper due at the end of February 2014.

The Issues Paper is available free of charge from the ALRC website <www.alrc.gov.au> and is also available as an ebook. The ALRC prefers submissions via the ALRC online submission form. Written submissions can be posted to the Executive Director, ALRC, GPO Box 3708 Sydney NSW 2001 or emailed to info@alrc.gov.au.

Closing date for submissions is Monday 11 November 2013.

For more information about the ALRC inquiry go to www.alrc.gov.au/inquiries/invasions-privacy. To keep up to date with the Inquiry, subscribe to the Inquiry e-news or follow #PrivRev or @AusLawReform on Twitter.

View or download the Issues Paper.

The Final Report is due to be delivered to the Attorney-General by 30 June 2014.