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Privacy Law and Policy Reporter

Privacy Law and Policy Reporter (PLPR)
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Tucker, Greg --- "Harnessing the euphoria of the information superhighway" [1995] PrivLawPRpr 64; (1995) 2(5) Privacy Law & Policy Reporter 97

Harnessing the euphoria of the information superhighway

Greg Tucker

Privacy now features as one of the main issues to be considered in the creation and development of the information infrastructure commonly referred to as the information superhighway. To date, the rhetoric of the governments of the larger industrialised economies and key players in the private sector suggests that this issue must be accommodated in order to attain the economic and social goals set.

The G7 conference

At the recent G7 Ministerial Conference on the Information Society (Brussels, 26-27 February 1995) it was stated that the G7 countries will 'increase efforts to find creative, technological and policy solutions' to protect privacy and personal data. Specifically, it was provided that the protection of personal information at both national and regional levels requires that protection provisions are defined and enforced and that international co-operation and dialogue are encouraged. (See Chair's conclusions to G7 Ministerial Conference on Information Society, p 6). At the same time the US Government has recognised the need to re-examine existing privacy policies to ensure that they apply to the transfer of personal data works. In the recent material published by Al Gore, Vice President of the US, it was stated that common nations working together should ensure that the transport of personal data adequately takes into account the following agreed-upon international privacy principles:

  1. Personal data should be collected only for specified, legitimate purposes.
  2. The dissemination, sharing and re-use of information should be compatible with purposes for which it was originally collected.
  3. Personal data should be accurate, relevant, and up-to-date.
  4. Individuals should be informed of how personal data will be used and should be allowed to examine and correct this information.
  5. Transmission of personal data should not be unduly restricted or subject to burdensome authorisation procedures (Global Information Infrastructure: Agenda for Co-operation, US Government, February 1995).

One of the key recommendations arising from this report was that key privacy issues should be identified and addressed in relation to the development, nationally and internationally, of the information superhighway (see p 22).

In Australia the final report of our own Broadband Services Expert Group (December 1994) entitled Networking Australia's Future also gave prominence to the privacy issue recommending that 'privacy of users of advanced networks be protected by developing a self-regulatory scheme for network participants within the framework of the Privacy Act' (AGPS, Canberra, 1995, p 67).

All of this policy outpouring would amount to little if not supported by key players in the private sector. Interestingly, similar concerns are shared and these have been expressed in various documents; for example, in a joint submission by Eurobit, ITI and JEIDA to the G7 meeting in Brussels referred to earlier. These organisations acknowledged that privacy and trust in an information society ranked in the six issues central to the successful development of the global information infrastructure. Moreover, the Computer Systems Policy Project supported by a significant number of the larger players in the hardware and software market has produced 'Perspectives On The Global Information Infrastructure'. Once again this document was presented to the G7 ministerial meeting in Brussels last February. This document recognised privacy as one of the substantive priorities to be addressed in the global information infrastructure (p 4).

All of this indicates that the mood for the discussion of privacy issues has changed remarkably in the past five years. Privacy has now been discussed openly by these groups as being an issue requiring attention and demanding some focus and resources.

In addition to this other changes have taken place. First, privacy is being mentioned along with other issues, notably security of information systems and the protection of intellectual property. These issues have common threads throughout them when considered in the context of the creation and development of the information superhighway. Security of information systems forms an important aspect, but an aspect only, of proper privacy protection. The association of the words 'privacy' and 'security' has some risks as it tends to perpetuate a mistaken view that privacy and security are synonymous. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has clearly distinguished these areas in the development of two sets of guidelines; the Guidelines for the Protection of Personal Data, 1980 and the Guidelines for the Security of Information Systems, 1992. In relation to actual intellectual property, there may exist a tension with privacy as the tracking and payment systems associated with payment for services on the information superhighway may lead to systems being put in place where people's use of software is monitored and recorded and appropriate charges made. This may not be the ideal solution in terms of the privacy of users.

It is difficult to assess whether the development of the global information infrastructure will require a new set of standards or a change of existing guidelines, or no change at all. It seems apparent from the increase of personal data collection and storage that the risk of privacy invasion will increase as people with information attempt to provide it to others.


The multitude of international communication initiatives afoot are changing many aspects of life in developed societies. These initiatives do not respect national or regional boundaries. Accordingly, seeking to ensure that privacy is protected has an important global dimension. There is an urgent need to assess what steps are necessary and appropriate to building in privacy protection so that the construction of the global information infrastructure is not flawed and it may realise its full economic and social potential.

There is a golden opportunity to take advantage of the attention accorded to privacy in this new era and to move beyond the government and industry rhetoric to workable global solutions.

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