The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) has published Discussion Paper 72, asking for feedback on “301 proposals for overhauling Australia’s complex and costly privacy laws and practices”.

As stated in the ALRC’s media release, key proposals arising from the public consultation process undertaken to date include the following:

–simplifying the current regulatory scheme for privacy law;
–providing for the protection of personal information stored or processed overseas;
–introducing a new system of data breach notification to individuals;
–introducing a new statutory cause of action where an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy has been breached;
–abolishing the fee for unlisted telephone numbers;
–expanding the enforcement powers of the Privacy Commissioner;
–imposing civil penalties for serious breaches of the Privacy Act; and
–introducing a more comprehensive system of credit reporting.

Submissions in response to the discussion paper are due by 7 December 2007. The ALRC plans to release a final report and recommendations in March 2008.

I have not been able to review the ALRC’s proposals in depth, but they appear to be responding to the considerably complex nature of Australian privacy laws (which are addressed at the federal and state levels, sometimes with separate treatment for medical records), as well as attempting to bring current privacy principles in line with current information technology and its implications.

If you haven’t already seen it mentioned in the news, there’s now a way to identify who is editing entries in Wikipedia–or at least the organisations from which the edits are being made.

WikiScanner, created by a Cal Tech computation and neural-systems graduate student, provides a searchable database that cross-references edits to Wikipedia pages with information on the owners of the IP addresses from which those edits originate. (more…)

The Australian Attorney-General Philip Ruddock has appointed Australian Federal Court judge Susan Kiefel to serve on the commonwealth’s highest court. Justice Kiefel, who will take up her new position on 3 September, replaces Justice Ian Callinan, who is required to retire once he turns 70 on 1 September. See here for some news coverage.

Justice Kiefel, who is based in Brisbane, has sat on the Federal Court of Australia since 1994. Before that, Justice Kieflel was a judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland.

She is the forty-sixth judge, and will be the third woman appointed to the High Court. The first female judge on the court was Justice Mary Gaudron, who sat from 1987 to 2003. The second female judge on the court, Justice Susan Crennan, was appointed in 2005.

Justice Kiefel is currently a part-time member of the Australian Law Reform Commission, as well as President of the Federal Police Disciplinary Tribunal.

There have been a couple of interesting developments in social networking land lately. One demonstrates the value that these networks represent. The other highlights some complicated issues about risks associated with using social networking tools, as well as possible privacy and more general regulatory concerns. (more…)

And here’s a new danger from posting information on Facebook–your university might use the information to fine you for breaking the rules.

Oxford University has reportedly used photographs of students on the popular social networking website Facebook who they say have broken the University’s rules regarding conduct after examinations to charge fines. The conduct? Being sprayed by shaving cream, covered by flour and silly string, and similar offences. (more…)

Australia’s competition regulator, the ACCC, is taking Google to court, alleging that the search engine company has engaged in “misleading and deceptive conduct in relation to sponsored links that appeared on the Google website”, in contravention of section 52 of the Trade Practices Act 1974 (Cth).

Section 52(1) provides that a “corporation shall not, in trade or commerce, engage in conduct that is misleading or deceptive or is likely to mislead or deceive.”

The ACCC has alleged that Google has engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct in breach of section 52 by:

–in 2005, providing sponsored links to online classified advertisement provider Trading Post‘s website, in the guise of hypertext links to two of Trading Post’s competitors (but associating the text with the Trading Post’s URL); and
–on a continuing basis, “failing to adequately distinguish sponsored links from “organic” search results”.

The ACCC has also alleged that Trading Post contravened sections 52 and 53(d) of the Act in 2005 when the names of their business competitors (car dealerships) appeared in the title of Google sponsored links to Trading Post’s website. (Section 53(d) prohibits a corporation from representing that it “has a sponsorship, approval or affiliation it does not have”.) (more…)

While Google is currently the dominant player in the Internet search engine business, that doesn’t mean that there is not a great deal of activity among companies vying for a piece of the action. As was recently reported, even 1% of the global search market represents quite a bit of money.

Not all search engine companies use the same strategies to capture market share, however. (more…)

The folks over at strangemaps have posted an interesting map of the USA, matching the gross domestic product (GDP) of each individual state with a country with a similarly-sized GDP.

Strangemaps rightly points out that the map presents a somewhat distorted picture; while the state/nation state GDP levels may be similar, the corresponding population levels are not. This means that similar GDP figures do not necessarily indicate similar levels of wealth per capita in the US states and countries compared, although it does rank the size of the economies of US states and the corresponding foreign countries.

The rest of strangemaps is worth a look if you have a moment–there are some very interesting maps there. One of my recent favourites is the Online Communities Map.

Although our frequency of posts has dropped off since the second half of 2006, things have been going on behind the scenes at LawFont.

Kim has recovered from her 2006 overload, and will be blogging primarily on Australian intellectual property issues. Sarah hopes to be back soon, and will be blogging again on a range of issues, mostly on developments outside of Australia.

Finally, we’d like to formally welcome our new blogger. Susanne is particularly interested in the regulation of communications and media content, counter-terrorism and national security regulation, and administrative law. We are very happy to have her with us!

And apologies for my not posting over the past few weeks — I recently changed jobs and am working things out with my new employer. I hope to be back soon!

Google has announced that out-of-copyright titles are now available for download via Google Book Search (formerly known as “Google Print”).

Remember Project Gutenberg? 19,000 public domain titles are currently available at what is one of the first book digitization projects. The focus in this project is on providing the text (generally as ASCII files or HTML) of out-of-copyright works. By contrast, the aim of Google Book Search is to provide scanned images of actual published works — both in copyright and in the public domain. As I’ve commented before, Google’s approach to generating its library of scanned works has been controversial, particularly to publishers of works contained in libraries that are participating in the project.

Unfortunately, my expectations of Google’s library were not met. While the collection of works available on Google Book Search is broad, the access to full images of public domain works is not what I had hoped. (more…)

The New York Times has prevented access from the UK to an article detailing intelligence on recent terrorism concerns in the UK. The article in question, “Details Emerge in British Terror Case” (published 27 August), contained details that may have run afoul of the requirement under UK law that prohibits the pre-trial publication of “prejudicial information” about defendants. The New York Times used technology designed to deliver targeted advertising to users to prevent anyone using a computer located in the UK from downloading the article. The article quotes Jonathan Zittrain (of the Berkman Center at Harvard Law School and the Oxford Internet Institute) in saying that the paper’s action is consistent with trends on the Internet to restrict information.

It is thought to be the first time that the paper has withheld access to an article to avoid contravening laws in the UK.

The New Yorker has published another interesting article on the old media-new media debate. The last such article that I posted on looked at Wikipedia versus traditional encyclopedias and research; this article (published in the 7 August print edition) is on traditional versus Internet journalism (also known as “citizen” journalism).

Although the whole article is worth a read, Lemann’s parting thought is pretty interesting on its own:

Journalism is not in a period of maximal self-confidence right now, and the Internet’s cheerleaders are practically laboratory specimens of maximal self-confidence. They have got the rhetorical upper hand; traditional journalists answering their challenges often sound either clueless or cowed and apologetic. As of now, though, there is not much relation between claims for the possibilities inherent in journalist-free journalism and what the people engaged in that pursuit are actually producing. As journalism moves to the Internet, the main project ought to be moving reporters there, not stripping them away.


For those of you in the United States that read The New Yorker, this is old news, but for those of you who do not, you might be interested to read a very interesting article in the 31 July issue on Wikipedia. The article, which is very well-written, has generated some interesting commentary at Freedom to Tinker on the difference between Wikipedia’s open, peer-reviewed model and The New Yorker‘s more traditional fact-checking approach (typical of high-quality print media).

I’d be interested to hear what readers think is more reliable — the Wikipedia approach or fact-checking? Both models certainly have their virtues and their weaknesses. (My own view: while some sources of information tend to be more reliable than others, any single person–or even a group of people–holds biases and can make mistakes.)

Warner Bros. has joined a number of other television broadcasters in providing some of its programming for sale on Apple’s iTunes. A number of networks, including Fox (owned by News Corp.), ABC (Walt Disney Co.), NBC (Universal), CBS, and MTV (Viacom Inc.), along with Warner Bros., together offer more than 150 television shows for US$1.99 per episode. The shows may be viewed on a computer or a video iPod. And what’s really interesting — it’s possible to subscribe to a current season of a television show (and not just repeats). (more…)

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