MEDIA RELEASE: We need to have a serious talk about snooping

Protection from public sector snoops is okay for people in Britain but not for Australians?

That’s the question being asked by the Australian Privacy Foundation – the nation’s independent privacy advocate. For more than 30 years the Foundation has been fighting for a respectful privacy regime.

Just because something is politically advantageous, administratively convenient or commercially attractive doesn’t mean politicians, officials and businesses should do what they like.

Just because your nosy neighbour has a digital camera or a drone doesn’t mean private snooping is okay.

We need a national conversation – one informed by respect rather than fear and political opportunism – about Australia’s privacy regime. We can’t let privacy be eroded drip by drop.

This week a UK Court damned that nation’s surveillance regime. The court savaged indiscriminate official access to personal data based on mandatory retention of mobile phone traffic and internet searcher. The UK ‘snoopers charter’ (under the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act and Investigatory Powers Act) covers records of internet use, location-tracking of mobile phone use, and records of who people call and when they call.

The UK regime is similar to the mandatory retention of metadata in Australia and to creeping access – one step after the other in the shadows through quiet changes to Commonwealth, State and Territory law – by a growing range of public and private bodies.

The UK court said that the UK regime is legally wrong. Access was not restricted to fighting serious crime and there was no meaningful safeguarding by prior authorisation by a court or independent body. It is not good enough to say that we can rely on an official or a minister: in Australia, just like elsewhere, those people sometimes get it wrong.

News about the UK coincides with the ABC reporting that secret Commonwealth government documents were left in a filing cabinet sold on the second-hand market. The report highlights sensitive documents left behind in offices. If we can’t trust the servants of the people to take more care, we need to talk about changing the rules.

The Foundation is calling for better law – more coherent, more transparent, real remedies – and better administration. If you are in Western Australia or South Australia you might ask your state government why you still don’t have an Act of Parliament that deals with the information that state and local government collect about you. Every Australian should be asking why the national government (and the Opposition parties) haven’t done anything about the Australian Law Reform Commission’s major report on digital snooping and snapping.

We need to talk about such things and we shouldn’t have to wait for courts to come to the rescue.


Kat Lane0447 620
Dr Jake Goldenfein(03) 9214