Protecting privacy in a wired world: new ALRC inquiry

Tuesday, 31 January 2006: Do Australians have enough privacy protection for health, credit and other sensitive personal information? Who can gain access to it? Can it be traded, sold or provided to others? Should privacy laws go beyond data protection to provide rights not to be photographed or subject to electronic surveillance?

These questions are central to a major inquiry by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) into the federal Privacy Act and related laws, announced today by the Australian Attorney-General.

ALRC President Professor David Weisbrot said a review of privacy laws and practices was crucial at this time, given the rapid technological advances in information, communication, storage and surveillance since privacy legislation was first developed in the 1980s.

“We potentially give away private, personal information every time we shop over the Internet or with a credit card, apply for a job, go the doctor or other health professional, or even enter a competition,” Prof Weisbrot said.

“There are now real issues as to how securely information is stored, how it is used, and who has access to it.

“The ALRC has been asked to review the extent to which undue intrusion into or interference with privacy arises in Australia, and how best to protect the privacy of Australians,” Prof Weisbrot said.

ALRC Commissioner, Associate Professor Les McCrimmon—who will lead the privacy inquiry—said one of the main challenges will be to provide a legal framework that provides adequate protection for personal privacy, while minimising the regulatory burden on business.

The Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) was the result of a previous ALRC inquiry into privacy, completed in 1983. The ALRC has also examined genetic privacy as part of its internationally acclaimed report Essentially Yours: The Protection of Human Genetic Information in Australia.

 “Protection of a person’s right to privacy is becoming increasingly important in the technological environment of the 21st century. It’s time to review how well existing privacy laws are working, and whether they are dealing adequately with emerging areas, such as internet use and off-shore call centres,” Prof McCrimmon said.

As with all ALRC inquiries, there will be a strong focus on community input. The ALRC plans to produce at least two consultation papers, and will seek input from anyone with an interest in privacy, before providing its final report to the federal government, due in March 2008.

To register an interest in the privacy inquiry, or for further information—including the full terms of reference—please see the ALRC web site: <>.