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Privacy Law and Policy Reporter

Privacy Law and Policy Reporter (PLPR)
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Greenleaf, Graham --- "R v Brown" [1994] PrivLawPRpr 21; (1994) 1(2) Privacy Law & Policy Reporter 32

R v Brown

Court of Appeal (Criminal Division), England (Staughton LJ, Hidden and Laws JJ);

The Times 4 June 1993; Lexis

Data Protection Act 1984 (UK), s5(2) - meaning of ''use' of personal datas5(2) of the Data Protection Act (UK) provides that a registered data user shall not ''use any such data held by him, for any purpose other than the purpose or purposes described in the entry'. ''Use' is not otherwise defined. The appellant, a police officer, was a friend of a debt collector engaged to investigate the owners of a vehicle. The appellant caused a police computer check to be carried out on the vehicle, and there was no evidence that this check was conducted for policing purposes.

Held: On the ordinary meaning of the word ''use', it is necessary to do more with the information than to access a computer and view what is contained in it. It is necessary to ''make some use' of the data, ''not merely to access it'. Appeal upheld, conviction quashed. (Leave to appeal to the House of Lords was subsequently granted.)


As the Crown submitted, it seems that this judgment means that any police can view the records of any members of the public for their own amusement without breaching the Data Protection Act. The definition of ''use' in Australia'sPrivacy Act 1988 (Cth), s6 (''"use", in relation to information, does not include mere disclosure of the information, but does include the inclusion of the information in a publication') could be subject to similar interpretation. Misuse such as in R v Brown would then not be a breach of IPP 9 (''shall not usethe information'). However, the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth), s76B(2) makes it an offence to ''intentionally and without authority obtain access' to data stored in Commonwealth computers, and of a more serious category where personal information is concerned

Graham Greenleaf

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