1.1 This Inquiry comes at a time of continuing and rapid advances in technology with increasing capacities to affect the privacy of individuals. Many of these technological advances are beneficial to society and are valued by the individuals and organisations that use them or who benefit from their use. However, these technologies also raise concerns about privacy that might once have been the stuff of science fiction but are now based on reality.
1.2 The challenge for lawmakers is how to ensure that the law remains relevant, appropriate and workable in the light of technological advances. By the 1990s technology had already taken a monumental leap with the development and uptake of the internet and the worldwide web and with advances in digital technology.
1.3 Over the last 20 years, governmental, commercial and personal use of digital technology has become universal. Data-mining methods, search engines and data analytics have revolutionised the processing, recognition, communication, acquisition and aggregation of knowledge and information. Mobile technologies and devices have become increasingly affordable to all social and economic strata of society. Social media have transformed interpersonal communications. Media convergence has made today’s media a different phenomenon from even its 1990 counterparts.
1.4 The scope of this Inquiry is not confined to invasions of privacy brought about by digital technology. Significant gaps in data protection regulation, deficiencies or inconsistencies in criminal surveillance or harassment laws, and gaps in the existing common law protection against physical invasions of an individual’s privacy also underpin the need for a review of the existing law.
1.5 The divergence in the recommendations of previous inquiries into privacy law, significant developments in other jurisdictions, concerns expressed in the community, continuing gaps in Australian common law and statute law protecting privacy, and new problems raised by the use of rapidly developing technologies all require detailed consideration by the ALRC in this Inquiry.
1.6 This document commences the second stage in the consultation process in this Inquiry into serious invasions of privacy. The first stage included the release of the Issues Paper, Serious Invasions of Privacy in the Digital Era (ALRC IP 43, 2013), in response to which the ALRC received many valuable submissions. The Final Report will be provided to the Attorney-General by the end of June 2014.
M Paterson notes that ‘Surveillance in public places has assumed additional importance in the light of technological developments that have taken place since the publication of the VLRC’s report in 2010’, citing, for example, increased availability of face and number plate recognition and radio frequency identification technologies: M Paterson, Submission 60.
Both the Issues Paper and this Discussion Paper may be downloaded free of charge from the ALRC website, <www.alrc.gxjov.au>. Hard copies may be obtained on request by contacting the ALRC on (02) 8238 6333. Public submissions are also published on the ALRC website.