The Attorney-General announced yesterday that the Australian Law Reform Commission will review the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth). The ALRC press release is here. The reference to the ALRC follows the recommendations of two other, briefer reviews which reported in mid-2005. While you might ask why we need another review after those two, the advantages I think are twofold: (1) it is the ALRC, which does ‘active’ review (it doesn’t just wait for submissions), and (2) the terms of reference are pretty broad.

As AG’s media release notes:

‘Two recent reports by the Privacy Commissioner and the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee into the effectiveness of the Privacy Act have both recommended that a comprehensive review of the Privacy Act be undertaken.
“It is timely to respond to these recommendations and review the overall effectiveness of the Privacy Act to see where improvements can be made,” Mr Ruddock said.

The review will examine existing Commonwealth, State and Territory laws and practices and will consider the needs of individuals for privacy protection in light of evolving technology.

“This is an important area given the rapid technological advances in information and communication storage and surveillance,” Mr Ruddock said.The ALRC will also examine current and emerging international law in the privacy area and consider community perceptions of privacy and the extent to which it should be protected by legislation.’

The two reviews the AG refers to can be found here:

According to the terms of reference, the ALRC will consider:

  1. relevant existing and proposed Commonwealth, State and Territory laws and practices
  2. other recent reviews of the Privacy Act 1988
  3. current and emerging international law and obligations in this area
  4. privacy regimes, developments and trends in other jurisdictions
  5. any relevant constitutional issue
  6. need of individuals for privacy protection in an evolving technological environment
  7. the desirability of minimising the regulatory burden on business in this area, and
  8. any other related matter.

The review will be led by ALRC Commissioner, Associate Professor Les McCrimmon – a former colleague of mine from Sydney University.

As I noted above, this reference is good news, I think, and has advantages over what has goen before. The reviews that have already happened only highlighted the need for a more wide-ranging, considered inquiry into the issues of privacy and the adequacy of Australian law. And no one can deny (what with ongoing developments in this so-called ‘war on terror’, and the developments in surveillance that are ongoing and ever-changing) the need for an ongoing debate. Don’t hold your breath though – this is a long term thing, with the report due in March 2008.