NSW legislators back privacy laws for individuals

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NSW legislators back privacy laws for individuals

Corporations could be sued for privacy breaches.

A committee of NSW legislators has backed the introduction of new laws that would allow individuals to seek legal redress over serious breaches of their privacy.

The state parliament’s standing committee on law and justice has joined a chorus of commissions and inquiries in recent years to support the introduction of such a statute, which would fill gaps left by the Commonwealth Privacy Act.

The national Act applies only to the treatment of information and does not apply to individuals or small businesses.

The NSW committee has called on the state government to take a lead in the implementation of individualised privacy rules, in the face of “a lack of political will federally” to put in place uniform national legislation.

“Participants in our inquiry expressed frustration at the lack of decisive action on this issue, despite several eminent reports recommending a similar course,” committee chair Natasha Maclaren-Jones said in a statement.

It has recommended the state parliament pass a suite of new laws based on the recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission’s proposal in 2014.

The ALRC wants to see individuals handed the ability to sue individuals and organisations alike for serious breaches of privacy.

The model favoured by the committee members could give aggrieved individuals an opportunity to sue government and business organisations over breaches of their personal information, on the grounds that it was intentional, reckless or even negligent.

Privacy advocates pointed to the Department of Immigration’s accidental leak of asylum seekers' personal details in 2014 as a case in point for why negligence should be included in any privacy statute when it is applied to large organisations with access to security and data protection resources.

Under its proposal, individuals could only face legal action over intentional and reckless breaches of privacy.

The inquiry, led by Maclaren-Jones, was instigated in July last year, driven by concerns that existing laws aren’t keeping up with technological threats to individual privacy like electronic ‘revenge porn’, drones and corporate databases falling into the hands of unauthorised assailants.

The committee, which included members from the Liberal Party, Labor, the National Party and the Greens, did not however back all the reform suggestions raised by witnesses.

It knocked back complaints from privacy lawyers and the NSW Law Reform Commission that exemptions for law enforcement within the NSW Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1988 were too broad and act as a blanket protection from liability for the state’s police.

It also rejected suggestions that video recording without consent be placed in the same prohibited legal category as audio recording without consent, citing “limited evidence”.

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