National phone-in to probe privacy pitfalls

Tuesday, 30 May 2006: Sick of the telemarketer’s call just as dinner is about to be served? Wondering how advertisers got hold of your name and address? Concerned that electronic links might make sensitive health information more vulnerable? Bewildered about an apparent negative credit rating? Annoyed to find a stranger taking photos of you sunbaking on the beach?

The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) wants members of the public to share their views, concerns and experiences of privacy protection through a National Privacy Phone-in on Thursday 1 June and Friday 2 June. The Phone-In will kick off a major inquiry into the federal Privacy Act.

“Privacy is not just an issue for experts or specialists—it’s an issue that affects everyone. We readily give away private, personal information every day when we pay our bills on-line, go to the doctor, sign a petition or enter a competition’ , said ALRC President, Professor David Weisbrot .

“Yet, rapid advances in computer technology mean that this information is much more easily captured, stored, shared and cross-referenced than in the past.

“Most of our current Privacy Act dates back twenty years—before mass marketing databases, internet shopping and electronic health records. We want to know whether the public believes that our laws and practices are effective at protecting privacy in the face of these new technologies.”

ALRC Commissioner, Associate Professor Les McCrimmon—who is leading the privacy inquiry— said that the purpose of the Phone-In is to invite members of the public to help the ALRC to shape and determine priorities for the protection of privacy.

“The Privacy Act focuses on data protection. We want to know whether this is broad enough, or whether the community wants protection from video surveillance, monitoring of emails, invasion of home life by telemarketers, and similar problems.

“Most of all, we want to hear callers’ personal stories about when they have felt their privacy has not been respected, how their complaints have been handled and whether their concerns ultimately have been addressed.”

Professor Weisbrot said that the ALRC is also interested in hearing from people responsible for compliance with privacy legislation. “The Phone-In isn’t just for individuals. We’re also interested in hearing from business people about how easy it is to understand their obligations. We have already heard that the system is unnecessary complex, with different federal, state and territory laws and excess red tape, making compliance confusing and expensive.”

People can take part by phoning 1300 653 418, between 9:00am and 5:00pm (Eastern Standard Time) on Thursday 1 and Friday 2 June 2006 (maximum call charge 25c). Comments can also be provided online at The purpose of the National Privacy Phone-In is to gather information on public perceptions of privacy protection. The ALRC cannot give legal advice on individual complaints.