Australian law and data protection

The Saturday Paper

DON’T THINK DATA PRIVACY IS A BIG DEAL? Here’s a lesson from history. Before World War II, the Netherlands established a record of religion in Amsterdam, which the Nazis later used to round up people of Jewish faith, street address by street address.

“It led to the death of many of those people,” says former High Court justice Michael Kirby, who heard this story while in Europe in the 1970s as the chair of an OECD expert group drafting new privacy guidelines. “This had taught them how information was not neutral, information was sometimes sensitive, and sometimes literally a matter of life and death.”

Spurred on by its dark past, Europe has often led the world on privacy reform. The first national data protection laws, for example, were enacted in Scandinavia.

Now they’re doing it again. This week the European Union’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force, which Kirby says is likely to inspire more stringent privacy regulations in other countries.

It’s the wake-up call Australia needs. Legal experts interviewed by The Saturday Paper say our own privacy regulation is weak, inconsistent, riddled with exemptions, and failing to keep up with technological advances. They claim our two major parties have left us exposed because they’re too cowardly to stand up to vested media interests, especially News Corp.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 26, 2018 as Witless protection.