Principle 2: There is a public interest in protecting privacy

2.12 This principle reflects the long-held acceptance by the law that the notion of public interest does not simply comprise matters in which the public as a whole has a communal interest, such as the proper administration of government or the proper administration of justice. Rather, there is also a public interest in the protection and enforcement of private freedoms and rights of individuals. This is embodied in the law’s protection of information imparted under a contractual or equitable obligation of confidence.[9] A similar concept underpins the protection of many property and possessory rights.[10]

2.13 It follows that in many cases involving the protection of privacy, the court will not only be concerned to provide a remedy that will protect the individual litigant. Courts will also be concerned to provide a remedy that will have a normative effect on the behaviour of others in the community, either by way of deterrent or example, so providing a measure of protection to a broader class of people. Legal rights can help set standards of behaviour, and may be valuable even if those rights are not often enforced.

2.14 Privacy, like confidentiality, underpins other important individual freedoms. Privacy and the ability to speak freely without fear of disclosure is important for social order and public health, private wellbeing, and the achievement of many social ideals and objectives. Without privacy and confidentiality, a person may feel unsafe or unable to speak freely and honestly about an important matter, such as a suspicion about criminal activity, a problem about one’s own or another person’s activities, or a health concern about a condition, disease or substance addiction. There is also a public interest in the security of confidential information about an individual’s financial and commercial interests.

2.15 The public interest in confidentiality and privacy is reflected in many legal principles, such as the defence of qualified privilege in defamation law, or in the approach of the courts in granting injunctions to constrain the breach of a contractual or equitable obligation of confidence.[11] It is also reflected in legislative provisions dealing with the confidentiality of medical records and medical information about a person.[12]