The ALRC Privacy Review is Off Track

An image of a pencil erasing the word "privacy".

The Australian Law Reform Commission is reported in as mulling right to erasure laws. Under such laws, Australians would have the right to demand the removal of content on any website which depicted them - effectively giving every Australian the right to issue takedown notices.

This is nonsensical for many reasons, but in the Australian context the recommendation is a particular farce, and the ALRC should know better. Having presided over the abject failure of a classification review, the commission doesn't seem to have learned that Australia has some of the most astonishing censorship laws and frameworks of any western-style democracy, perhaps the world. Giving every Australian the right to issue deletion notices is a foot in the door for politicians to erase their pre-political career, for the destruction of evidence pertinent to legal matters, for impersonators demanding the erasure of the impersonated's Facebook images and more. The only good news is the nascent lucrative market in services that cache Australian social media users' content for recovery in the event of it being targeted by the depicted. It would also give the Australian bureaucracy an interesting challenge to add yet another legislative framework that seeks to use Australian law to regulate companies that are incorporated in places that aren't subject to Australian law.

We are simply the wrong country to expand censorship in, even if it is well intentioned and could save embarrassment.

This is the second bad idea to come out of the review so far, the first being mandatory breach reporting where businesses would be required to disclose when they leaked private information. This may seem like a good idea on the first glance but businesses are already masterful at public relations in the face of breaches and they're better at it if they get to plan the disclosure than they even are on the spot when they get caught by whistleblowers and journalists. Mandatory reporting isn't a deterrent to businesses being negligent with private information, massive fines and loss of operating licenses are, but that discussion is replaced by the tempting discussion of embarrassing companies who don't meaningfully feel embarrassed by having to apologise for any inconvenience caused.

Prof. Barbara McDonald needs to set these aside and start looking at the real issues in Australian privacy. Recent reviews have separated user-focussed, beneficial-to-consumers reforms from protectionist measures for the industries that benefit from trading personal information (largely credit reporting agencies), and actioned only the measured which benefited the corporates. This review is zero for two in the ideas that have been discussed in the media. Australians need a genuine legislated right to privacy and strong... terrifying deterrents to all those who would be flippant with privacy in order to make profits.


Image:  opensourceway