Cartoon: By R May
Currently three journalists are being charged under the criminal code in Victoria for unauthorized access to restricted data, over obtaining data from an electoral roll containing private information of citizens.
Such an act would be troubling if it were not for the fact that the roll was in the hands of the ALP and the personal details contained in it were collected by the party under an exemption under the Privacy Act allowed to political parties:
… The journalists -- Royce Millar, Nick McKenzie and Ben Schneiders -- will appear in the Melbourne Magistrates Court next month, accused of illegally accessing an electoral roll database holding personal information about Victorian citizens, collected by the ALP. The journalists subsequently wrote stories in the lead-up to the 2010 state election about the collection of data by political parties under an exemption of the privacy act. …
The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance defended the journalists on the grounds that their investigation and reporting had "significant public interest." "This was a legitimate news story and people deserve to know that political parties are holding this data," MEAA spokesman Paul Murphy said.
"Why should political parties be exempt from the privacy act to collect and hold this data? This issue was in the public interest and we don't believe the journalists have done anything wrong."
The editor-in-chief of The Age, Andrew Holden, said while he could not discuss the defence that would be argued before the court, "the main issue has always been that their reporting exposed a database held by the ALP that contains private and detailed information.
"Their reporting exposed the exemption under the privacy act for political parties to do that. We think that is of great concern and the public should be entitled to know what information that database holds about you." …
The journalists allegedly used login details to the Eleczilla database supplied by a source and searched for personal data about prominent Victorians including the then police chief Simon Overland, radio broadcasters Jon Faine and Neil Mitchell, builder Daniel Grollo and barrister Peter Faris QC.
This makes it clear that there is one rule for the ruling class; another for the rest of us.
Had they accessed a government site containing personal information that had been compulsorily acquired, such as Centerlink, the Tax Office, Medicare, etc, it would have represented a serious breach of privacy. On the other hand, accessing a political party database, to verify information that it contained massive amounts of private information on citizens is a very different matter.
It is definitely in the public interest to be made aware of just what sort of information political parties are holding on us. It would also be interesting to find out whether this information was collected by legal means, or otherwise.
This action has to be considered a deliberate attempt to stifle journalists who are prepared to seek information outside official government press releases.