Workplace Surveillance

Current Status

The NSW Government is introducing regulation of computer monitoring and the use of tracking devices, as well as updating its regulation of video surveillance in the workplace.

If passed, the Workplace Surveillance Bill 2005 (NSW) will be the first law of its kind in Australia. Both public and private sector employers, of all sizes, will be required to comply with rules for both overt and covert surveillance.

On 24 May 2005 the Bill passed the lower house of Parliament. On 21 June 2005 it was debated in the upper house. In this parliamentary debate, the Australian Privacy Foundation’s position paper was quoted extensively by various parties, including the Cristian Democrats, the Australian Democrats and the Greens.

Following this debate the Government inserted its own amendment, to remedy one of the deficiencies that the Australian Privacy Foundation had pointed out with the Bill – that the Bill provided no protection for an employee whose privacy is abused by a boss misusing personal information about them they gained through overt surveillance. For instance, if your boss humiliates you in front of co-workers about something they read from your emails or captured on videotape at the office Christmas party or in the lift.

On behalf of the Government, the Hon John Hatzistergos described the amendment (a new clause 18) as adding:

“commonsense restrictions on the use or disclosure of non-covert surveillance records by employers. Essentially it requires that employers may only use or disclose non-covert surveillance records for legitimate purposes. …

For instance, this will prevent an employer viewing video surveillance at home, with a number of friends, for the general amusement of those watching. Employers will be able to use or disclose non-covert surveillance records for any legitimate purpose related to the employment of employees or legitimate business activities or functions of the employer. Disclosure will also be allowed to law enforcement officials, for purposes related to the taking of civil or criminal proceedings and to avert imminent threats of serious violence or substantial damage to property.”

However many other criticisms were ignored, including:

  • our argument that there should be a civil rather than criminal system, to allow remedies for workers whose privacy has been breached (e.g. through a complaints mechanism run by the Privacy Commissioner), and
  • that the Privacy Commissioner should be involved in educating both workers and employers about the Act.

Minister Hatzistergos advised that rather than the Privacy Commissioner’s Office being involved in the Act’s implementation, the intention is that “an educational strategy will be developed by the Attorney General’s Department in conjunction with big business.”


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