This document reports on a successful mini-campaign.

The City of Charles Sturt Council is in the north-western suburbs of Adelaide, and has a population of about 100,000. In mid-July 2005, it made its so-called ‘Public Registers’ available on the Web. The data involved was:

  • the ‘Assessment Register’ (which is the property register for rating purposes);
  • the Dog Register; and
  • the Development Application Register.

The local newspaper, The Messenger, approached the Australian Privacy Foundation. In answer to the journalist’s question, attention was drawn to the problems with publishing such data.

The Messenger then published an article on the issue. In the hours after the article appeared, the Council received a large number of calls from residents, objecting to the practice. The Council responded promptly to the public concern, and had closed the site by 11am that day.

The Council’s revised policy in relation to Public Registers is as follows: “The public registers are no longer availble for access via the Internet. For access to public information as required by legislation, please attend the council office at 72 Woodville Road, Woodville”.

The Council issued this statement to people who had expressed concern (although it appears not to have put it on the Media Release web-page): “Council had made the decision to provide the registers online based on its legislative obligation to make the information available to the public and the move throughout Council to offer information and services online. However, we respect that people were not comfortable with registers being available in this form. We did not hesitate to remove the information from our website this morning. To comply with the statutory requirements, the City of Charles Sturt must continue to make the registers available at the Customer Service Centre, 72 Woodville Road, Woodville.

It was excellent both that the local media and local people communicated their concerns, and that Council responded promptly and appropriately. (The Council provides a great deal of valuable non-personal data on its site, and its initial over-enthusiasm is easily understandable).

But the Council should now go further, because it has the opportunity to lead the country.

Further information is available on the question of local government publication of personal data.