The Privacy Amendment Act includes a set of new harmonised privacy principals that regulate the handling of personal information by both Australian government agencies and businesses. These new principals are called the Australian Privacy Principals. They have replaced the existing information privacy principals that apply to Australian government agencies and the national privacy principals that applied to businesses.
There are thirteen new Australian privacy principals. In some respects this represents a new wave of far reaching privacy reforms. Are we heading for a new privacy era where for instance Australian celebrities can sue for a breach of their privacy as a result of photos taken via a telephone lens and subsequently published?
In March this year the Australian Law Reform Commission released a discussion paper with forty seven proposals for privacy reform. This followed a request by the Federal Attorney General last year for the Australian Law Reform Commission to provide a final report on recommendations for serious invasions of privacy. This report was titled "Serious Invasion of Privacy in the Digital Era" and the paper called for submissions by 12 May 2014 so there was the opportunity to provide varying views.
This comes amidst changes including the thirteen new Australian privacy principals and enhanced powers of the office of the Australian Information Commissioner which includes the Privacy Commissioner. The Commissioner's powers include the ability to seek from the Courts civil penalty Orders for serious breaches of privacy up to $1,700,000.00. However, currently there is no right under the Privacy Act for an individual to make a claim directly against a business for a privacy breach, as exists in some overseas jurisdictions.
The public debate around this topic however continues. Should a serious invasion of privacy be included especially when it may well be offensive or cause personal injury to individuals? Should they then not have the right to sue for compensation?
There remains a tension between any proposal and the rights of the media to investigate and comment on matters of public concern as opposed to an individual's right to privacy and there could well be serious invasions of privacy that ought to be punished so as to act as a deterrent for future conduct.
Princess Caroline of Monaco won a landmark ruling from the European Court of Human Rights for a breach of her right to privacy in 2004 which confirmed that the publishing of paparazzi photographs taken of the princess in a public place was a violation of her right to privacy. Should Australia head in the same direction?