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Jul 27, 2011

Privacy inquiry; will we get duded again?

There is a great deal of suspicion out here that any privacy inquiry initiated by the federal government will set the tone for a lawyers feeding frenzy. MPs over the years have used defamation suits to silence opponents and make a tidy profit on the side over legitimate criticism. There is reason to believe that the main beneficiaries of privacy legislation will be lawyers, MPs, and other reprehensible bastards.

The excuse being given by the government is that it is in response to the “News of the World” hacking scandal. There seems to be little point in this, as the actions at NotW were clearly illegal, both in Britain, and here. While Australia has no legislated right to privacy, this is well covered by laws such as defamation, trespass and restrictions on the use of surveillance devices:

The former head of the Australian Press Council, David Flint, said privacy legislation could harm Australia's media freedom.
Mr Flint, now an emeritus professor of law at the University of Technology Sydney, said the people who would take advantage of the law would be the "rich and powerful."

"They would use that to stop investigation of legitimate matters of public interest," he said.

Media law expert and HWL Ebsworth partner Nicholas Pullen said such changes would be difficult to regulate and could stifle journalism. …
There are currently hacking allegations against The Age who would appear to have used an unauthorized password to access an ALP site and extract details under editorial supervision. The password was supplied by a whistle-blower who was disturbed at the degree to which the party was holding personal details of individuals. Political parties are currently exempted from the provisions of the Privacy Act.

Independent Senator Xenophon is attempting to have this overturned with a private senator's bill. Today’s Australian gives some details of the situation:
The Privacy Amendment Act 2000 prevents private organisations from compiling information on people without their consent. However, political parties (private organisations in the eyes of the law) are exempt from that act courtesy of section 7C. This exemption allows parties to continue operating highly sophisticated voter tracking software that, if used efficiently, can mean the difference between victory and defeat in close marginal seats….

… The exemption not only means parties can compile information on voters without their consent, it also means the public has no right of access to the material, including to check the accuracy of what is contained in the database. "Political parties fall between the cracks," Errington says. "As private organisations they have exempted themselves from privacy laws, but they rely on being private organisations not to submit to Freedom of Information requests.” …

… "The public isn't really aware how these databases work. If they were, voters wouldn't like it, especially given that privacy exemptions for political parties don't exist in other parts of the world like Britain and New Zealand," Errington says. "Write to your local MP about this issue, just be careful what you say.”
Unsurprisingly, both major parties are expected to oppose Xenophon’s bill.

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