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overview

issues

principles

Aust law

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New Zealand

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N America

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advocacy

reports

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technologies

harbours

statements

media

business

costs

spatial

cctv

bodies

workplace

prisons

politics

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attitudes

harvests

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section heading icon     overview

This Guide considers privacy in the digital environment.

It identifies key Australian and overseas privacy issues and legislation, enshrining what US judge Thomas Cooley succinctly characterised in 1888 as "the right to be left alone". It points to government agencies and interest groups, highlights significant online reports and discusses the major literature on privacy principles and practice.

subsection heading icon     contents of this guide

The following pages cover -

  • issues - a snapshot of key issues and developments regarding privacy and the web
  • principles - a snapshot of international statements of principle, including the OECD Guidelines on the Protection of Privacy & Transborder Flows of Personal Data and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • Australian Law - Commonwealth and State/Territory privacy legislation and practices. It is supported by a more detailed profile identifying specific features of that legislation and industry codes
  • EU law - privacy in the European Union, including the EU Data Protection Directive and Electronic Commerce Directive that are now driving global online privacy development
  • New Zealand - privacy in New Zealand
  • Asia law - privacy in Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and other parts of Asia
  • N America - legal developments in North America such as the new Canadian Personal Information Protection & Electronic Documents Act and US Children's Online Privacy Protection Act
  • agencies - privacy/data protection commissions and other government agencies in Australia and overseas
  • advocacy - industry bodies and public interest groups such as EPIC, the CDT and EFA
  • reports - links to major local and overseas reports, papers and other documents about privacy regulation, business proposals and consumer attitudes
  • primers - major books on the philosophy of privacy, legal and technological challenges, and policy development
  • other writings - brief comments on a wide range of privacy books by business experts, lawyers, consumer advocates, historians and others
  • technologies - tools such as the proposed P3P standard and cookies
  • safe harbours - a discussion of the EU-US Safe Harbor Agreement and other bilateral data protection agreements
  • statements - website privacy statements and seals
  • media - questions about privacy, public awareness and old/new media (including proposals for 'rights of publicity')
  • business & consumers - perspectives on the tension between mass customisation, industry codes, legislation and user self-help in the age of the 'panoptic sort'
  • costs - studies about the costs of privacy regulation and comments on the 'privacy industry'
  • spatial - questions about 'locational privacy' and geospatial technologies
  • cctv and other cams - a discussion of the use of CCTV, webcams, 'upskirtcams' and the blurring of 'public' and 'private' space
  • bodies - exploration of medical privacy, including questions about adoption
  • workplace - notions of privacy rights and responsibilities in the workplace, ranging from drug testing to surveillance of email
  • prisons - privacy in prisons and other institutions, from cavity searches to invigilation of mail
  • politics - voter profiling, campaigning and political databases
  • telecommunications - reverse directories, phone tapping, do-not-call registries and other issues
  • postal - privacy in postcards, sealed correspondence and courier services
  • search - privacy in online searching ... does Google, your ISP and your government know where you have been online?
  • attitudes - what do consumers think about their privacy and the privacy of others
  • harvesting - scraping personal data, online and offline
  • landmarks - highlights in development of international privacy law and practice

Specific issues are examined in more detail elsewhere on this site. In particular there is a multi-page exploration of the Australian privacy regime (including federal and state/territory law, industry codes and consumer expectations).

The complementary guide on secrecy discusses official secrecy and commercial non-disclosure regimes, including consideration of media privilege, whistleblowing and confessional secrecy. The guide on censorship and free speech considers other matters at the intersection of community and individual rights. Writing about the 'surveillance state' (whether involving government agencies or the media) is explored in a supplementary profile. Other pages deal with passports, the Australia Card, offender registers, technologies such as RFIDs and biometrics, credit referencing and data trading.

subsection heading icon     privacy on this site

Put simply, we aspire to best practice in data collection, handling and access. Information about our respect for your privacy is here.

subsection heading icon     orientation

The US National Academies 2002 study on Privacy in the Information Age comments that

many issues concerning privacy in the information age are coming to a head. There is an evolving sense of the nature of the privacy problem (now seen as including fraud, identity theft, harassment, matching and on-line profiling, and general exposure or embarrassment, at least, and increasingly emphasizing business collection and use of personal information), a broadening sense in private and public sectors that the problem is growing, and a recognition in several quarters that the existing policy framework is inadequate.

These issues bear directly on civic engagement and intergroup relations within society, shaping motivations and context, and they cut across institutions and sectors of society. Although the politics of the situation are stimulating activity in a variety of government entities, no one foreseeable action (eg new law or regulation) will be a panacea.

Privacy is a long-term issue that will evolve as a problem and an arena for public and private activity; privacy developments are part of a larger process of societal transformation associated with the spread of information technology.

The CEO of DoubleClick more succinctly commented that "personal information is the oil of the twenty-first century".

What is privacy?

Definitions (and practice) vary, depending on the situation of the observer. We've noted in this guide that some industry leaders and academics have echoed the fashionable dismissal of copyright, claiming that in the digital environment real privacy is simply a thing of the past. Many consumers are passionate about their own privacy but will trade it for quite small monetary inducements and, alas, are avid consumers of celebrity culture.

Three major groupings are evident in scholarly writing about privacy.

Some - particularly influential in the EU - have articulated privacy as an expression of the individual's personhood, highlighting the right of the individual to define his/her essence as a human being or engage in his or her own thoughts, actions and decisions ... the right to be left alone.

Others, for example Alan Westin in the US, have viewed privacy in terms of citizens' ability to regulate information about themselves and thereby control their relationships with other human beings and business/government entities - individuals have the right to decide "when, how, and to what extent information about them is communicated to others."

A third group of analysts has eschewed grand theory in favour of a more eclectic (or merely more pragmatic) approach, with what US legal scholar Ken Gormley characterises as a 'mix & match' analysis that distils privacy into "two or three essential components" such as "secrecy, anonymity and solitude" or "repose, sanctuary and intimate decision".



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version of December 2003
© Bruce Arnold