Digital privacy debate risks press freedom

Digital privacy reforms by the Australian Law Reform Commission have the potential to hinder journalists.

The digital privacy debate risks reducing press freedom in Australia, The Newspaper Works has warned.

Unwarranted restrictions on journalism are a possible outcome of digital privacy reforms being currently being considered by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC), it says.

The industry group has complained in a submission to the ALRC that no substantive proof exists that an issue with digital privacy requires more laws beyond the 1988 Privacy Act.

It says four separate inquiries into privacy have taken place since 2006 and no case for increased legislation around digital privacy has been successful.

The chief executive of The Newspaper Works, Mark Hollands, said he was concerned about the terms of reference for the ALRC’s issues paper, called “Serious Invasions of Privacy in the Digital Era”.

It includes a requirement on the commission to recommend a detailed legal design of a statutory cause of action for serious invasions of privacy.

“We argue this proposed cause of action is unwarranted because the need for it remains unanswered,” Mr Hollands said.

“No policy should be formed or proposed until this most fundamental question has been addressed and the answer proven.”

Submissions in previous hearings by ministers of the last government – Brendan O’Connor (then minister for privacy) and Mark Dreyfus (then attorney-general) made similar points, he said.

Mr Dreyfus said earlier this year that responses to the government’s 2011 discussion paper “showed little consensus on how a legal right to sue for breach of privacy should be created, or whether it should be created at all”.

“Government is unable to define the problem yet continues to ask for a fix,” Mr Hollands said.

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