Victoria to clamp down on improper surveillance

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Victoria to clamp down on improper surveillance

‘Happy slapping’, toilet and upskirt cams targeted.

The Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) has called for the State Government to modernise surveillance laws in response to advances in technology.

In its Surveillance in Public Places report (pdf), tabled in Parliament today, the Commission made 33 recommendations expected to balance the benefits of surveillance with privacy.

A combination of best practice guidelines and legislation was recommended to regulate surveillance and curb "improper use" of devices.

"Upskirting" and "happy slapping" were highlighted as two such uses. The former was a criminal offence involving the use of hidden cameras to record images up the skirts of women.

The Commission believed that the latter, in which individuals recorded violent attacks and then distributed the footage, could be exacerbating criminal behaviour.

Surveillance technology was used extensively by the Victoria Police, Corrections Victoria, local councils, and transport organisations, as well as at public events, in public housing estates, universities and TAFEs, shopping centres and the hospitality industry.

The combination of various technologies - CCTV, GPS, automatic number plate and facial recognition - led to a loss of privacy and anonymity, VLRC reported.

"This may cause Victorians to alter the way we express ourselves and behave when in public," the Commission wrote.

"Those people with the means to do so may retreat to private places whenever possible in order to avoid unwanted observation."

The Commission recommended that the Government appoint a regulator to oversee public place surveillance, and give people the right to sue for the misuse of surveillance in a public place.

It also proposed amendments to the Victorian Surveillance Devices Act 1999 to prohibit the use of surveillance devices in toilets and change rooms, and include technological advances such as in mobile phones that could be used as cameras and tracking devices.

Commission chairman Nathan Rees said Victorians' right to privacy in public places should be legally recognised.

"Our current laws were not designed to deal with the many ways in which surveillance devices are now used in Victorian public places," he stated.

"We need to actively monitor developments in technology, such as body imaging devices and facial recognition technology, to ensure they are used responsibly and that the law discourages abuse."

Victorian Attorney-General Rob Hulls thanked the Commission for its work and said the Government would "consider the report's recommendations".

Hulls noted that the Federal Government had yet to respond to Australian Law Reform Commission calls for a statutory cause of action for breach of privacy.

"A national approach in this area would be preferable but in the meantime there is an important debate to be had," he said.

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