Privacy Law and Policy Reporter
Compiled by Nigel Waters
Elizabeth Montano, Director of the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) the financial reports agency), for the last six years, has decided to leave the position in the New Year. Ms Montano, who was recruited from the private sector, has been open to hearing privacy and civil liberties concerns during her tenure, welcoming the input from the Privacy Advisory Committee established by her predecessor, Bill Coad. It is to be hoped that her successor — yet to be announced, will be equally balanced in the administration of an inherently highly intrusive regime of financial monitoring.
The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) and the Australian Health Ethics Committee have announced that the reporting deadline for the National Inquiry into the Protection of Human Genetic Information has been extended by nine months to March 2003. The Inquiry will now accept submissions on its issues paper (published in October 2001) until 18 March 2002 (the submission deadline was originally 14 January 2002).
For further information see <www.alrc.gov.au> or email <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Source: ALRC/NHMRC media release 30 January 2002.
Source: Washington Post at <www.Washtech.Com/News/Regulation/14248-1.html>.
The Government has announced that the Australian Protective Services (APS) is to become an operating division of the Australian Federal Police (AFP). The APS is responsible for guarding Commonwealth property, and for counter-terrorism’s first response at major Australian airports. Legislation will be required, although the administrative change is planned from 1 July 2002.
This seemingly innocuous change may have important privacy implications if the APS with its 800 personnel automatically acquire access to the same range of information and powers as the AFP. Both the training levels and the accountability of APS staff are presumably different from AFP agents, and it may not be desirable nor appropriate to give them the same extensive ability to intrude into individuals’ privacy as the Commonwealth police officers currently enjoy. These include the authority to seek warrants for searches and telephone intercepts, and access to financial transaction information held by AUSTRAC.
The media release also mentions the intention to continue to allow private security firms to compete against the APS for some contracts. If the APS have increased powers and levels of access to information as a result of becoming part of the AFP, pressure may grow for the private firms to be given similar powers and access, on the argument of a ‘level playing field’. A situation where some of the AFP’s functions are commercially contestable may well be undesirable for other reasons.
Questions need to be asked urgently about these issues. As a starting point, the Government should provide comparative information about APS and AFP powers, access to information and accountability.
Source: Minister for Justice and Customs Media Release 14 February 2002.