Monday, 29 October 2007

Privacy Again

The Economist has a series of articles running currently on civil liberties issues. In Learning to live with Big Brother, it deals with privacy and surveillance. In Australia, the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) has recently released its proposals for amendments to Australian privacy legislation.

The Economist suggests that interest in privacy is new. It was not enshrined in international human rights treaties until the second half of the 20th century. Not only that, but few people are concerned about privacy - my experience too. The impression is that the author, as a liberal, agrees with this basic lack of concern. It is attributed to the relative trust that most people have in the use of private information by authorities, because we see it being used against hoons, terrorists and organised crime, not ourselves. We are intrigued, not dismayed, by the way in which the movements of malefactors can be tracked through thousands of CCTV cameras.

Those who read this blog regularly know that my own view as a librarian is that the free flow of information, and our access to it, is at least as important as privacy. A good example is the balance that needs to be made between the right to take photographs, and the right to privacy - Electronic Fronters Australia has a good piece on the need to achieve a balance.

It is suggested that the privacy environment is changing now, and we need to be more aware. There is a risk - the boiling frog metaphor is used - that we will suffer a major erosion in our rights before we realise it. This is because of several changes. They include the rise of CCTV cameras and their proliferation, the ability to store vast amounts of information which track the activities of individuals, and, The Economist suggests "The prospect is much scarier in countries like Russia and China . . ."

How should ALIA respond to the ALRC? A number of the proposals in its Discussion Paper 72 propose the extension of legislation on privacy, and issues which arise relate to public photography, privacy in relation to deceased people, the exemption for media and proposals to limit it further, social networking, and the proposed broader privacy right which the ALRC is considering.

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