Privacy Law and Policy Reporter
Compiled by Tim Dixon
As Australia heads towards adopting calling line identification telecommunications technology, consumer representatives will do well to note the serious problems being experienced in the US with the provision of 'blocking' technology which allows individuals' numbers not to be displayed. Bell Atlantic in the US admitted in March that it had failed to provide line-blocking to 13,000 of the 112,000 customers who were promised the service and had been led to understand that their number was not being displayed at the receiver's end when they made calls. Bell's admissions follow on from Nynex in New York, which admitted that up to 30,000 customers were unknowingly without line blocking. Nynex also reported failures in Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire. Ameritech in Wisconsin has also admitted that 7 per cent of the 11,000 Wisconsin customers who requested blocking did not receive it. In Denver, US West missed 1000 orders, there was a 13 per cent failure in Pennsylvania, and an unquantified failure in Alabama, including shelters for abused women.
('Privacy Times', 7 March 1995; Privacy Journal, March 1995).
The NSW police have launched a trial of video surveillance cameras in the cinema district of Sydney. The Police Minister, Paul Whelan, has pledged that surveillance cameras will be introduced with a set of guidelines to protect personal privacy, and has also announced that public response to the installation of cameras will be assessed in the Government's monthly surveys of public attitudes. Sydney Lord Mayor, Frank Sartor, has indicated his opposition to widespread surveillance of the city streets.
The Schengen Agreement's cherished aim of eliminating border controls within Continental Europe became a reality at the beginning of April. Travel between Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Holland, Germany, Spain and Portugal (the Schengen Seven) is now passport-free. Soon Italy, Greece and Austria will follow, and if they are able to keep open borders with Norway, it is likely that Denmark, Sweden and Finland will follow. But the absence of a passport doesn't necessary give freedom from identity requirements. Of the Schengen Seven, Holland is the only country which does not require its citizens to carry an identity card. Identity cards have been integrated into daily life as proof of identity and can be required in a whole range of daily activities from simply driving to entering into commercial transactions. The adoption of a 'voluntary' identity card has similarly been proposed for the UK and is currently a matter of national debate.
The Economist, 1 April 1995
A breakdown of internal security processes has led to an extraordinary breach of privacy at American Express in the US, made the more ironic by the strong pro-privacy profile which Amex has built over several years. Lawyers for Philip Morris Co sought the travel and telephone records of two ABC News producers by subpoena from 13 companies including Citibank, AT&T, Hertz and American Express. They believed this information could help them track the producers' movements and therefore locate an anonymous employee who appeared on the ABC News Day One program claiming that the company injected cigarettes with nicotine to encourage addiction. Philip Morris sought the evidence as part of a $10 billion libel suit, the largest in American history. A Virginia judge granted access to the records, but the following day an appeal was launched. It was already too late. An American Express clerk copied not the expected one month's records, but seven years'. Included within these files were records for six other journalists' corporate credit cards. Amex has apologised for the blunder. The journalists are unable to take the matter further, as the Fair Credit Reporting Act only covers credit bureaus' use of data, and not the general disclosure of credit information.
Privacy Times, 7 March 1995
The Financial Management and Accountability Bill, currently before parliament, includes provision for financial rewards for informants (or whistleblowers) who expose instances of fraud within Commonwealth administration. In a 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, risk encouraging fabricated or exaggerated allegations, and contribute to a diminution of trust. The Commissioner referred to recent recommendations against such rewards by two parliamentary committees (on fraud and whistleblowing). The Government nevertheless seems determined to press ahead with establishing a scheme of rewards.