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Media Release - How far should we go to protect privacy? (6 July 2007)

Imagine your personal letters being published for strangers to read. Or your neighbour focusing a camera on your backyard. At the moment, the law does little to stop these things happening, and offers no redress once they occur.

A Consultation Paper[PDF, 1018Kb] released today in hard copy by the NSW Law Reform Commission poses the question: should people be able to take legal action in a court or tribunal if their privacy is invaded?

Personal privacy is recognised as a human right, and is protected by a number of international treaties. However, most Australians are surprised to learn that we enjoy very limited legal protection against invasions of personal privacy. This puts Australia out of step with the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and most European nations, which have legally enforceable privacy protections.

The Chair of the Commission, the Hon James Wood AO QC, said that if a cause of action for privacy invasion were considered desirable in NSW, the Commission initially favours one based on statute. However, no firm decision on the need for, or the form of, any cause of action had yet been made:

At this stage of our review, the Commission has not determined whether there should be a general action for invasion of privacy. That decision can only be made after we have consulted with the community on the need for further privacy protection.

The Commissioner in charge of the review, Professor Michael Tilbury, said that the Commission understands the concerns that may arise about the effect of the proposed cause of action on freedom of speech, but notes that these concerns are misplaced. A cause of action for privacy invasion would not mean that privacy automatically took precedence over other important public interests, such as national security or freedom of speech. In the Commission's view, an action for invasion of privacy should only be available in cases where the interest in privacy was not outweighed by the other public interests.

The Commission invites submissions to its Consultation Paper [PDF, 1018Kb] by 15 September 2007.

Media comment

Professor Michael Tilbury, Commissioner, NSW Law Reform Commission

Tel: (02) 9228 8230; Fax (02) 9228 8225