Privacy Law and Policy Reporter
The Privacy Committee of NSW is about to commence a special research project on visual surveillance, with a particular emphasis on surveillance in the workplace.
The project is timely as the issue of visual surveillance has been highlighted recently by the media in a number of disturbing contexts, including the voyeuristic surveillance of casino patrons.
There are also indications that as well as being a privacy issue, video surveillance of employees is emerging as a significant industrial relations issue. There have been at least two recent occasions when this type of surveillance has led to disputes which have been referred to the Industrial Relations Commission.
At present, there are no general guidelines, codes of practice or laws governing the use of video surveillance in the workplace, or its use in shops, financial institutions, office buildings, hotels, clubs, casinos and so on. This means that there is nothing to discourage or prevent the installation of highly privacy invasive and otherwise unjustified video surveillance systems. Nor are there any limits on the purposes for which these systems may be installed or the uses to which video recordings may be put.
At the same time, the technology has developed to the extent that systems may be installed which are virtually impossible for the subjects of the surveillance to detect. This makes it very difficult for people to be aware of the extent of video surveillance and to protest if it is unreasonable or excessive.
The Attorney-General's Department has made additional funds available to the Privacy Committee to enable it to employ a research office for six months to undertake the research project on visual surveillance with a view to developing either a suitable code of practice or model legislation. The project will involve consultation with key stakeholders, including employers, unions, trade and professional associations and law enforcement agencies. The project is expected to commence in early October 1994.