Privacy Law and Policy Reporter
Compiled by Graham Greenleaf and Nigel Waters
Suddenly, everything has changed! After two years of intense debate and highly contested proposals, December 1998 has seen three major changes in the Australian privacy landscape.
However, December started on a horrifying note: a letter bomb sent to the home of Privacy Commissioner Moira Scollay. The risks faced by official ‘watchdogs’ were brought home dramatically by the sending of letter bombs to the homes and offices of many public servants in the areas of taxation and human rights. Fortunately only one bomb exploded, causing minor injury to postal workers, and the package sent to Ms Scollay was successfully defused. A man has been arrested and charged.
On 1 December the NSW Parliament enacted the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998, covering most of the NSW public sector. The two Lower House amendments (see 1998) 5 PLPR 99) were accepted by the Legislative Council.
Next, on 4 December, the Victorian Government released its draft Data Protection Bill in a discussion paper (see http://www.mmv.vic.gov.au under ‘publications’). The Bill appears to have addressed many of the criticisms leveled at the earlier proposals (see (1998) 5 PLPR 21). Comments are invited by 12 February 1999, and the Bill is then to be introduced in the autumn session of State Parliament. Victoria might now ‘vacate the field’ in relation to the private sector in light of Commonwealth developments, but its Act will still cover the State public sector.
Finally, on 16 December, the federal Attorney-General and Minister for Information Technology jointly announced that the Commonwealth Government will now legislate for privacy protection in the private sector. The media release emphasised that the law will be ‘light-touch’, supporting and strengthening self-regulatory initiatives. The release stated that a legislative framework will only apply where industry codes are not adopted. The Victorian draft Bill now makes clear that while approved industry codes may stand in for a default statutory scheme up to a point, they remain enforceable at law through a right of appeal. A controversial aspect is the decision to exclude employee records from the scope of the new law, while the exemption of the news media is more predictable and consistent with international developments.
All of these new initiatives will be explored in more detail in the New Year. Important privacy developments in Australia always happen just before Xmas!