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Privacy Law and Policy Reporter

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Editorial

Graham Greenleaf

It’s customary for PLPR to start each new volume with an editorial where we take a brief look at where privacy, and PLPR, has progressed over the last year.

Volume 6 started with the unveiling of the Australian Federal Government’s proposals to extend the Privacy Act to the private sector. A year later we have a Bill that resembles Swiss cheese: more holes than substance. This issue peers into some of those holes. The Bill’s numerous blanket exemptions and its lack of any rights of appeal and other enforcement weaknesses make it debatable whether it is really a privacy protection measure at all, as distinct from a measure to protect businesses that have otherwise question-able practices. The implications of the Bill for Australian businesses and consumers, and its legislative progress, will be the major theme of this volume of PLPR.

Federal privacy laws will not be the only focus. The next issue of PLPR will feature the new Victorian Privacy Bill, which retains most of the features of the 1999 Bill that made it the world’s ‘best practice’ model for a co-regulatory approach to privacy protection. The defective Federal Bill has certainly not challenged it for that title. With the NSW Act coming into force, the next year may see Australia’s information privacy laws moving much closer to comprehensive national coverage. It’s only 16 years since Australia entered an international commitment to do this by adhering to the OECD Privacy Guidelines.

Another focus of Volume 7 will be on how Australian events are likely to play a significant role in shaping the developing international framework for privacy. As will be explained in issue 3 of this volume, the dispute between the US and the EU over the EU Privacy Directive (the high benchmark for international privacy protection as yet) is far from over. Australia’s extension of privacy laws to the private sector is likely to be the second significant test of the Directive, and the EU has signalled that the current Bill is far from ‘adequate’ in some of its key elements. How the EU treats Australia, and how EU implications shape the Australian legislation, are important questions both for Australians and for the future of privacy.

Other aspects of privacy law and practice will not be neglected in our focus on emerging legislation. In this issue Lee Bygrave takes up a theme that has been stated at various times by PLPR over the years: there is too little judicial interpretation of privacy laws and the decisions of privacy authorities, and with-out such judicial oversight a coherent body of privacy law is unlikely to emerge. In this volume of PLPR we will try to provide more regular reporting of such privacy cases and Commissioner’s decisions as do occur.

The technology of privacy invasion is moving fast, but internet companies are increasingly finding that more public relations and stock market disasters due to poor privacy policies lie in wait for them than they ever expected. The Senate enquiry into e-privacy is very timely (see ‘Private Parts’ this issue) and Volume 7 will keep abreast of new technological threats and the capacity of the law to deal with them.

Many thanks to Associate Editor Nigel Waters, who took over as Acting Editor for half of Volume 6 while I was overseas and held everything together admirably, and to the editorial staff at Prospect who have handled all our copy with patience and good humour. Thanks to the members of the Editorial Board who contributed articles to Volume 6, and to all of our other contributors.

Finally, thanks to all of PLPR’s subscribers. PLPR treats privacy as an important value in a democratic society, and our editorial stance is that not enough has yet been done to provide a legal framework for its protection in Australia. Our subscribers take privacy seriously, and we hope that the articles we publish promote a better understanding of its meaning, and prompt a re-examination of views and practices concerning its protection.

Graham Greenleaf, General Editor.


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