Commission recommends modernising surveillance laws

12 Aug 2010

Victoria’s surveillance laws should be updated because of changes in technology according to the Victorian Law Reform Commission.

The Surveillance in Public Places: Final Report, tabled in Parliament today, contains 33 recommendations to modernise surveillance laws and promote the responsible use of surveillance devices in public places.

Chairperson of the Commission, Professor Neil Rees, said the proposed reforms aimed to balance the benefits of public place surveillance, such as security and crime detection, with the need to protect people against the risks of abuse, like serious invasions of their privacy.

“Our current laws were not designed to deal with the many ways in which surveillance devices are now used in Victorian public places,” Professor Rees said.

“Surveillance devices have become increasingly affordable, sophisticated and widely used.  Public place surveillance has become so extensive that it affects the lives of nearly all Victorians when engaging in everyday activities such as walking down the street, going to a shopping centre or going to a football match,” he said.

Professor Rees said that Victorians are entitled to a reasonable expectation of privacy in public places and that should be legally recognised. Modernised laws would also provide users of surveillance with greater certainty and guidance about the situations in which the use of surveillance is acceptable. 

“We need to actively monitor developments in technology, such as body imaging devices and facial recognition technology, to ensure they are used responsibly and that the law discourages abuse,” Professor Rees said.

The recommendations in the report include:

  • clarifying, modernising and strengthening the Surveillance Devices Act 1999, including a new offence dealing with improper use of a surveillance device, such as ‘happy slapping’
  • prohibiting surveillance in public toilets and change rooms
  • prohibiting a person recording an activity or conversation which they are part of without the consent of the other parties
  • broadening the role of the Victorian Privacy Commissioner to include regulation of public place surveillance
  • creating two new causes of action (the right to sue) dealing with serious invasions of privacy.

The report is the second part of the Commission’s inquiry into the use of surveillance and other privacy-invasive technologies: the first report dealt with Workplace Privacy.

The report is available at: www.lawreform.vic.gov.au or by calling (03) 8608 7800.

Date published: 
12 Aug 2010

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