Privacy Law and Policy Reporter
LEAN, the Commonwealth Attorney-General's Department's proposed data surveillance system, has been scrapped. The Commonwealth Minister for Justice, Duncan Kerr, announced at the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG) meeting on 18 February 1994 that the Commonwealth would not pursue the LEAN proposal any further. Although his Department was still refusing to confirm or deny this a month later, the Reporter has received a letter confirming LEAN's fate from the New South Wales Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, John Hannaford.
The Law Enforcement Access Network (outlined in (1994) 1 PLPR 11) was to be a central database of Australia-wide land ownership data, company and business names records. It was to be accessible to any Commonwealth, State and Territory agencies with law enforcement and revenue protection responsibilities, for investigative, data-matching and other surveillance purposes. It was to have sophisticated retrieval facilities not available on the systems from which its data derived. A CSA (now CSC) / Fujitsu consortium won a five year $17.2 million tender in 1992 to supply hardware and software for LEAN.
Critics of LEAN considered that its potential privacy dangers were comparable to the Australia Card. It would have been a major precedent for systematic re- use of so-called ''publicly available information' for purposes other than those for which it was (compulsorily) collected, before Australia has any comprehensive law on the subject. Once established, it was very unlikely to have been limited to its initial data categories. It was to have been governed, not by legislation, but by a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which gave individuals no rights against abuse. It would have exposed the majority of Australian's to ''one stop shopping' data surveillance by virtually all government agencies.
LEAN died principally because the States were not persuaded to sign on to surrender personal data on their residents to the Commonwealth. Some States were very concerned about the privacy implications. Some may have also thought that the Commonwealth was not offering sufficient ''financial inducements' to sell their residents private data. Data matching has also been shown of late to berather less effective than its proponents have claimed (see (1994) 1 PLPR 8, 11, 13, 14), but whether this diminished the Commonwealth's enthusiasm to pursue LEAN is unknown.
LEAN's demise may provide valuable lessons for those planning to spend public money on data surveillance. The question of who is responsible (in the sense of taking credit or blame) deserves a more complete autopsy than this brief death notice can provide, and will have to be taken up in a later issue