Privacy Law and Policy Reporter
Compiled by Tim Dixon
The Press Council has upheld a complaint against the Adelaide Advertiser for privacy invasion. The complaint, Adjudication No 769, concerned the front page publication of the picture of a woman whose car had just moments before injured five pedestrians, one of whom had died. The photograph clearly identified the woman. The Press Council found that there was no compelling public interest justification for the story and upheld the complaint.
An attempt to convince sceptics of the effectiveness of a national computer registry for job applications in fighting illegal immigrants backfired badly in Washington recently. Immigration and Naturalisation Service Commissioner, Doris Meisnner, could not get access to the White House meeting because the computer would not recognise her. The Washington Post reported that Ms Meisnner experiences this problem every time she visits the White House. Despite being recognised personally by staff, she could not receive approval from the computer and had to wait 30 minutes to be admitted. Other invited immigrant and civil rights groups were also barred access and kept waiting longer. They were reportedly greeted inside with a jovial 'Welcome to the superhighway!'
(Privacy Times, 22 February 1995)
The Director of Public Prosecutions, Michael Rozenes, has announced that he will not press charges against Telecom for illegal telephone bugging of its customers' phones. The case involved bugging the lines of individuals from the Casualties of Telecom group. The DPP concluded that there was 'insufficient evidence' to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Telecom's bugging was carried out for an unlawful purpose and not just for the purposes relating to the operation or maintenance of a telecommunications system. The DPP's conclusion was in contrast to the opinion of Australian Federal Police Officers who felt that their investigation had uncovered enough prima facie evidence for charges to be laid.
The Qld Council for Civil Liberties has announced that its priority in 1995 will be campaigning for privacy legislation in Qld. At present there is no general privacy legislation in any State, and only NSW has a permanent privacy protection body in any way comparable to the Commonwealth Privacy Commissioner. The Qld Privacy Committee was wound up at the end of 1992 due to a sunset clause in the legislation. The Government is currently examining the options for privacy protection.
The closing weeks of the NSW election campaign brought an increasing array of promises to make NSW a state of smart card-carrying consumers. In its final weeks in office, the Coalition Government endorsed a proposal to introduce a youth identity card which would give concessional travel and discount shopping and entertainment. This was followed by the Government's commitment to provide a single smart card for all public transport travel within NSW. The government has provisional arrangements with two card companies, Quicklink and Card Technologies, for the trials of the Quicklink Card in Newcastle and the Transcard in outer western Sydney. Both of them initially appear to be 'privacy friendly' in providing anonymous transactions, but the extra benefits of getting a personally identified card (through a rewards program for loyal customers) make this option less attractive. The incoming Labor administration has not declared its position on smart card technologies
On 31 January 1995 in the Senate, the Government tabled a response to the October 1988 report of the Legal & Constitutional Affairs Committee on the feasibility of a national identity scheme, the tax file number. The Government expressed satisfaction with the privacy safeguards implemented through the Privacy Act.
The Financial Management and Accountability Bill, currently before Parliament, includes provision for financial rewards for informants (or whistleblowers) who expose fraud within Commonwealth administration.
In debate in the Senate on 3 March, a Department of Finance official rejected concerns raised by the Privacy Commissioner that such a scheme would have significant privacy implications, would risk encouraging fabricated or exaggerated allegations, and would contribute to a diminution of trust.
The Commissioner referred to recent recommendations against such rewards by two parliamentary committees (on fraud and on whistleblowing). The Government nevertheless seems determined to press ahead with establishing a scheme of rewards.