Surveillance laws under scrutiny (media release)

30 Mar 2009

The Victorian Law Reform Commission is encouraging all Victorians to consider who may be watching their activities, listening to their conversations or tracking their movements.

The Commission has released a consultation paper on surveillance in public places and is seeking feedback from individuals, businesses and organisations on how surveillance should be regulated in Victoria.

Chair of the Commission, Professor Neil Rees, said the paper provides an opportunity for the community to consider how advances in technology have changed the practice of surveillance and whether current laws are adequate.

“Surveillance affects all Victorians whether we are shopping, catching public transport, driving on major roads, or attending a sporting event,” Professor Rees said.

“Surveillance devices have become increasingly affordable, available and sophisticated. Most mobile phones are now equipped with photo, video and voice recording capabilities and can operate as a handheld surveillance device.”

Professor Rees said the extent of surveillance in public places is not formally measured and surveillance is not comprehensively regulated with three separate Acts regulating some practices.

“There is no clear public policy concerning the circumstances in which public place surveillance in Victoria is acceptable and when it is not,” he said.

“An ad-hoc self-regulation scheme also operates with a range of industry codes, policies and guidelines, but it is likely that some organisations and individuals engaging in surveillance practices don’t know if they are acting lawfully.”

The Attorney-General asked the commission to balance the interests of surveillance users and those who are affected by surveillance.

“Users of surveillance are often concerned with protecting property and personal safety while individuals value protection of privacy and control of personal information,” Professor Rees said.

Key features of the Surveillance in Public Places: Consultation Paper include:

  • an explanation of how surveillance is used in public places and how it is regulated
  • a discussion of privacy in public places
  • an examination of the risks and benefits of public place surveillance
  • draft proposals for reform.

Professor Rees said the proposals are accompanied by a series of questions designed to stimulate public discussion and encourage feedback.

The aim of the proposals is to provide greater certainty and guidance about the situations in which the use of surveillance is acceptable or unacceptable.

The Commission has not made any decisions regarding recommendations for its final report to the Attorney-General due for completion late this year.

Professor Rees said the Commission’s terms of reference specifically require the paper to consider the work of other law reform bodies.

For this reason, the Commission has included as a proposal a recommendation by the Australian Law Reform Commission’s regarding a statutory cause of action.

Reform options include:

  • a new role for an independent regulator to monitor, report and provide information about public place surveillance in Victoria. It is envisaged that the regulator may require statutory powers of investigation and could be responsible for regularly reporting to parliament
  • new voluntary best-practice standards to promote responsible use of surveillance in public places. We ask whether compliance with best-practice standards could be encouraged by tying them to Victorian government procurement criteria
  • mandatory codes to govern the use of surveillance in public places with sanctions for non-compliance that include civil or criminal penalties
  • a licensing system for some surveillance practices that are found to be particularly invasive of privacy.
  • various changes to clarify and strengthen the Surveillance Devices Act 1999 (Vic)
  • a new statutory obligation to refrain from committing a serious invasion of privacy modelled on the statutory cause of action proposed by the ALRC in its recent report.

For a copy of consultation paper visit: www.lawreform.vic.gov.au
or call the Commission on 03 8608 7800.

The deadline for submissions is 30 June 2009.

Date published: 
30 Mar 2009

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