Principle 1: Privacy is a fundamental value worthy of legal protection

2.6 Privacy is important to enable individuals to live a dignified, fulfilling, safe and autonomous life. It is an important element of the fundamental freedom of individuals that underpins their:

  • ability to form and maintain meaningful and satisfying relationships with others, including intimate and family relationships;

  • freedom of speech, thought and self-expression;

  • freedom of movement and association;

  • ability to engage in the democratic process;

  • freedom to engage in secure financial transactions;

  • freedom to develop and advance their own intellectual, cultural, artistic, property and physical interests; and

  • freedom from undue interference or harm by others.

2.7 The right to privacy is recognised as a fundamental human right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and other international instruments and treaties.[1] Article 17 of the ICCPR, to which Australia is a signatory, provides:

1. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation.

2. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.[2]

2.8 Many stakeholders stressed the importance of privacy to a person’s autonomy and rights of self-determination.[3] The Law Institute of Victoria, for example, noted that ‘the protection of an individual’s privacy is fundamental to their human dignity and is central to many other human rights such as the right of freedom of association, movement and expression’.[4]

2.9 Privacy also gives individuals greater freedom to pursue their cultural interests free from undue interference from others. This freedom may be particularly important for some ethnic, religious and cultural groups, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who have particular cultural identity, knowledge and customs that bear on the privacy interests of individuals within the group.[5]

2.10 Some representative groups also stressed the importance of a right to privacy for protecting vulnerable individuals in the community from undue interference or harassment, or the fear of violence and harassment by others.[6] Privacy plays an important role in ensuring personal safety and freedom from harassment.

2.11 As privacy is about individual freedoms, corporate entities, government organisations or agencies, and elected groups would not have a right of action to sue for invasion of privacy under the ALRC’s proposals.[7] This is consistent with the common law, which recognises that privacy is a matter of human dignity and sensitivity.[8] This does not deny the possibility of invasions of the privacy of persons within a corporate entity or other organisation, nor the right of corporate entities to sue at common law for interference with their property rights.