ALRC consultations with young people

67.25 As noted above, there is limited literature on the attitudes of young people in Australia to privacy. In the early stages of the Inquiry, the ALRC determined that there was a need to assess if young people in Australia possess similar attitudes to those possessed by young people overseas. The usual submission and consultation process undertaken by the ALRC does not preclude the participation of young people. Experience indicates, however, that traditionally young people do not engage in these processes without specific prompting. Accordingly, the ALRC developed a number of processes particularly aimed at young people.

67.26 An age indicator box was placed on all of the pages that allowed people to submit comments to the Inquiry via the ALRC’s website. While optional, this indicator was useful in helping the ALRC to determine whether the views of stakeholders differed according to their age.

Talking Privacy website

67.27 In early 2007, the ALRC developed a website called ‘Talking Privacy’, which was accessible from the ALRC’s home page. The aim of the Talking Privacy website was to engage young people using a familiar and well-used medium. Designed specifically to appeal to young people, the website contained information about the Privacy Inquiry, links to further information about privacy law, and encouraged young people to send in comments to the ALRC about their privacy issues or experiences.

67.28 Following the release of the Discussion Paper, Review of Australian Privacy Law (DP 72), the website was updated to include a description of the ALRC’s proposals relating to children and young people. The website also contained information aimed particularly at teachers and students who were considering law reform or privacy as part of a school curriculum.

Youth workshops

67.29 As noted in Chapter 1, the ALRC held a number of public forums during the Inquiry. In addition, in order to ensure that the views of young people were captured as part of the consultation process, the ALRC developed a workshop format specifically for young people aged 13–25. The format provided young people with an opportunity to discuss general issues about privacy, and to provide comments and views on case studies which raised privacy issues in contexts that were relevant to young people.

67.30 The two-hour workshops were first conducted in late 2006 and early 2007, prior to publication of DP 72. A trial youth workshop was conducted in Sydney with a group of Year 10 and 11 students from Dubbo College Senior Campus. Youth workshops were then conducted in Perth, Brisbane and Hobart.[32]

67.31 Following publication of DP 72, two further workshops were held in December 2007 with Year 10 students from Fort Street High School and Cherrybrook Technology High School, both in Sydney.

67.32 The number of participants in each workshop varied from five to 20. In total, 74 young people participated in the workshops. The age of the participants ranged from 14 to mid-20s. The workshops were generally well received by the participants, and were effective in capturing the views of young people on privacy-related issues.

67.33 In summary, the workshops indicated that young people in Australia share similar views and opinions to those reported in the research and literature in this area. Young people are aware of privacy issues and have certain concerns about their privacy. The issues of concern to them, however, may not necessarily coincide with the issues of concern to older Australians. As could be expected, most of the issues of concern centred around their experiences, and focused on issues directly affecting them.

67.34 The privacy of personal space was raised in the workshops in discussions about searches of bags and lockers, privacy within the home, and privacy of meeting places such as religious halls. Issues about public surveillance were rarely raised.

67.35 The types of personal information that young people considered sensitive were the same as those considered sensitive under the Privacy Act—namely, information about sexual orientation, health, political views, ethnicity, religion and criminal records.

67.36 Much of the discussion in the workshops focused on the ability of individuals to choose what personal information to disclose, and to whom. Participants were often of the view that disclosure of personal information to a person or body did not entitle that person or body to use the information for a different purpose. This is consistent with the existing privacy principles and the model Unified Privacy Principles. It also is consistent with past consultations conducted by the New South Wales Commission for Children and Young People.[33] The Commission provided the ALRC with a quote from one young person which sums up a typical reaction of a young person to privacy: ‘Privacy matters because it is up to me whether or not I share information and who I share it with’.

67.37 At the same time, most young people accepted that there were many situations in which it may be necessary to disclose personal information for a greater public good—including to employers, police and the government. Young people considered, however, that there should be clear limitations on the mandatory disclosure of personal information. There was a range of views about the extent of the limitations.

67.38 The issue that raised the most concern in the workshops was the disclosure of health information to parents and others. Participants demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of the competing issues in this area—that is, the need to provide confidential medical advice to young people; the need to ensure the ongoing safety and well being of young people; the interests and responsibilities of parents; and the professional obligations of members of the medical professional. Generally, however, there was a view that any information disclosed to a medical professional by a young person seeking medical advice on his or her own should be confidential—even in circumstances where the medical professional decided that the young person could not consent to the medical treatment in question. There was general agreement that any decision by a medical professional to disclose personal health information to another person, such as a parent or other medical professional, should first be discussed with the young person. Many of the workshop participants considered it appropriate to encourage voluntary parental involvement in the treatment of young people.

67.39 In all of the youth workshops, young people indicated that they expected confidentiality from members of the counselling profession, such as school counsellors. There was strong support for the proposition that information disclosed in counselling sessions should be confidential, except in the limited circumstance where it was necessary to disclose it for the safety and wellbeing of the young person. A number of young people indicated that it was their understanding and experience that school counselling services were not confidential. In workshops held after the release of DP 72, young people supported the proposal that school privacy policies should clarify the extent of the confidentiality of school counselling sessions.[34]

67.40 In the workshops conducted after the release of DP 72, participants were asked to discuss the age at which young people were capable of making independent decisions about privacy-related issues. Most considered that the age would differ according to the context and the individual involved. The majority, however, felt comfortable at setting the age at 16, although they acknowledged that in the medical context it should be 15 to be consistent with rules regarding independent access to a Medicare card.[35] A number of participants noted that parents were responsible for their children until they turned 18 and, as such, were of the view that parents should be entitled to access all information about their children until they were of this age.

67.41 Another prominent issue discussed in the workshops was the posting of photographs online. Many young people had personal experience of this practice, and most had pragmatic responses to the issues raised by it. In general, young people thought that it was good practice to obtain a person’s consent before taking his or her photograph and posting it on the internet. They also expressed the view that a photographer working for financial gain also should be required to ‘share’ some of the financial gains with the person in the photograph. It was accepted, however, that it may be impossible to get the consent of every person in every photograph, particularly in situations where a photograph captures a number of people in a public place. Most considered the rules limiting or prohibiting the taking of photographs in certain public spaces, such as swimming pools and swimming carnivals, to be sensible.

67.42 Participants in the workshops accepted that it is often difficult to stop individuals from posting unauthorised photographs online. Some went so far as to say that anyone who poses for a photograph impliedly consents to its publication on the internet. One participant commented that the way to prevent the online publication of your image was to ‘cover your face’. This suggestion received a negative reaction from people over the age of 25 with whom the ALRC consulted, and is indicative of the way in which young people are developing different norms around the use of the internet for communication purposes.

67.43 Despite acknowledging the difficulties associated with the permanent removal of website content, most young people considered that an individual should be able to have a photograph removed from a website if he or she did not consent to its posting. This was seen as a suitable remedy to the unauthorised publication of a person’s image, and was considered to be more practical than putting laws in place to prevent the initial posting. Participants in the workshops placed a significant amount of trust in the reporting mechanisms available on the major social networking websites, although none indicated that they had any experience using such mechanisms.

67.44 Workshop participants displayed varying levels of understanding of the ramifications of the publication of personal information on the internet. Younger participants were the most likely to have posted personal information online, or to have had their personal information posted online by others. Regardless of this, their understanding of the possible privacy implications of the publication of personal information on the internet was more limited than that of older participants.

67.45 The two workshops held in December 2007 involved students aged 15–16. Participants in these workshops reported a high level of usage of social networking websites and demonstrated a good understanding of how these websites worked. There were, however, stark differences in views about the management of online profiles. While one group was very conscious of the need to protect personal information and use the privacy settings built into the websites, the other rejected the use of privacy settings and suggested that the whole point of social networking was to ‘put it all out there’. These attitudes appear to have been driven by peer networks, as participants indicated that these issues were not discussed in school classrooms. In both workshops, however, participants expressed surprise when informed that there are limited legal remedies available to individuals who have suffered a serious breach of privacy in the online environment.

67.46 Other privacy-related issues that tend to concern members of older generations did not concern young people in the workshops. For example, government access to personal information (such as school records to verify compliance with Youth Allowance requirements) was generally considered to be appropriate and fair. In addition, while workshop participants considered the covert collection of personal information by website operators to send spam annoying, and probably a breach of privacy, they were of the view that it was an everyday occurrence that should be addressed through practical, technology-based solutions as opposed to legal remedies. While some participants were concerned about the reach of recent anti-terrorism legislation, many others considered it appropriate and did not consider their own freedoms had been affected by the legislation.

Submissions and other consultations

67.47 The ALRC also made efforts to meet with representatives of children and young people as part of its general consultation processes. Roundtables were held in Sydney and Melbourne with key representatives of children and young people’s interests, with the Sydney roundtable also attended by a number of young people. Meetings were held with each of the children’s commissioners in New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania, and submissions were received from a number of bodies representing young people in Australia. Many of the submissions and consultations focused on decision making by individuals under the age of 18, and are addressed in detail in Chapters 68 and 69.

67.48 One young person submitted that:

Generation Y may be optimistic, but to say care-free is a stretch. We are concerned that people in authority may abuse our rights in regards to privacy. Concerns about privacy for people in my age bracket is primarily in relation to our developing autonomy from parental control. Thus issues such as medical problems, school issues, social issues, sexual matters, and especially issues involving police, are all privacy issues for Generation Y. I am not overly concerned about the government and privacy, it is more a matter of privacy in relation to my autonomy from my parents, and other authority figures, eg teachers.[36]

67.49 The Youth Affairs Council of Victoria (YACVic) submitted that:

the issues that impact on the actual level of protection that an individual receives could include a lack of personal or community understanding about young people’s rights to privacy, difficulties in accessing complaints mechanisms and the power imbalance between a young person and ‘professional’ often inherent in a situation in which a young person’s personal information is being collected.

YACVic believes that young people’s privacy is protected well enough in law, but that a range of other measures can be put in place or initiatives taken in order to ensure young people enjoy the highest level of protection and are not disadvantaged.[37]

67.50 It is clear that young people often use technology in a way that affects the privacy of others. For instance, a number of Australian schools have recently clamped down on online posting of inappropriate material, including video footage of fights involving school pupils.[38]

[32] The Perth workshop was supported by the Western Australian Office for Children and Youth; the Brisbane workshop was supported by the TC Beirne School of Law, University of Queensland; and the Hobart workshop was supported by the Commissioner for Children, Tasmania.

[33] NSW Commission for Children and Young People, Submission PR 120, 15 January 2007.

[34] Australian Law Reform Commission, Review of Australian Privacy Law, DP 72 (2007), Proposal 60–7.

[35] It should be noted that generally the participants in the youth workshops were well-educated young people with family support.

[36] J Boggs, Submission PR 245, 8 March 2007.

[37] Youth Affairs Council of Victoria Inc, Submission PR 172, 5 February 2007.

[38] E Bellamy, ‘Schools Act to Stamp Out Technology Abuse’, The Canberra Times (Canberra), 8 March 2007, 7.