Right to privacy and freedom from surveillance

The right to privacy is the right to be free from undue surveillance by Government or anyone else. Surveillance by the State should only occur if absolutely necessary and where authorised by an independent judicial officer. Personal information should only be collected and kept by the State and anyone else for a legitimate purpose authorised by law. Once collected, personal information should be destroyed as soon as it is no longer required. Not only would this protect privacy, it would also improve security. If personal information is only collected when absolutely necessary, it is less likely to fall into the wrong hands. If it is destroyed when it is no longer required, it is less likely to become incorrect and out of date. Australia’s privacy laws have expanded in recent years, but are still fundamentally flawed. They lack uniformity, they fail to recognise a right to privacy and they do not apply generally to individuals or small businesses. This means that private individuals and small businesses are largely unregulated when it comes to the collection and use of personal information about other people. The majority of democratic countries have recognised that privacy is a fundamental human right which needs to be protected. Article 17 of the ICCPR recognises privacy as a basic human right, but Australia, despite being a signatory to the ICCPR, does not recognise privacy as an actionable human right. Liberty believes Australia should meet its international obligations and legislate for a general right to privacy. An actionable right to privacy would enable individuals to take action against the inappropriate and illegal collection, use or disclosure of their personal information. It would not prevent the lawful collection and use of personal information for legitimate purposes. The spread of new technologies such as CCTV and GPS presents new threats to privacy which have outpaced the law. It is futile to try to stop the spread of many of these technologies. However, the legal environment in which they spread should discourage the misuse of personal information. The most effective deterrent to the misuse of personal information would be a liability to compensate people whose privacy has been compromised for no legitimate purpose. The right to privacy is associated with the rights to freedom of speech, freedom of movement, freedom from discrimination and the principle of government accountability.