Should the law step in to protect personal privacy?

In the era of fast-paced technological advances, a heavy reliance on social media and ever changing communication methods, does the law go far enough to protect personal privacy?

The University of Adelaide’s South Australian Law Reform Institute (SALRI) is calling for public submissions on its invasion of privacy issues paper, released today.

Professor John Williams, Dean of Law at the University of Adelaide and Director of the SALRI, says current measures for assisting people whose personal privacy is invaded are limited.

“The widespread use of new technologies in communication and the internet means it’s much easier for individuals to invade personal privacy and publish the results, often with distressing consequences,” Professor Williams says.

“Consider, for example, how devastated you and your family might feel if you were filmed showering naked without your knowledge and the footage subsequently went viral on the internet; or if the fact that you were suffering from a serious illness or addiction and seeking treatment was widely published without your consent; or if someone remotely filmed you in your backyard without your consent.

“A statutory cause of action for invasion of privacy may be a valuable civil remedy for, and deterrent against, serious invasions of privacy.”

Professor Williams says the development of a common law right to privacy in Australia has gained little ground to date, with current privacy laws primarily focusing on information privacy. For example, the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) is largely about the collection, storage, use and disclosure of certain personal information by governments and corporations.

“This paper asks the community whether there is a gap in our laws and whether a new law is needed to help us take legal action against those who intrude on our personal privacy. This means the Institute is asking for submissions on how best to balance the public interest in protecting freedom of expression with the public interest in protecting personal privacy.”

The issues paper and information about how to make a submission can be found on the SALRI web page . The deadline for submissions is Friday 14 February 2014.

After canvassing the views of South Australia’s legal professionals, media, interested groups and the general public, the SALRI will prepare a final report setting out its findings and recommendations.

The SALRI was established in December 2010 by agreement between the Attorney-General of South Australia, the University of Adelaide and the Law Society of South Australia. It is based at the University of Adelaide.

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