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How the law allows governments to publish your private information

Bruce Baer Arnold writes in The Conversation (15.3.17) that privacy laws in Australia need to be reformed promptly to stop governments bullying people through publication of personal information.

‘Recent controversy over the government’s use of information provided to Human Services and Veterans’ Affairs demonstrates there are major holes in Australia’s privacy regime that we need to fix.

‘Australians are accustomed to providing personal information to federal and state governments. We do it repeatedly throughout our lives. We do so to claim entitlements. We also do so as the basis of public administration – the contemporary “information state”. In making that state possible we trust we will not be treated as a file number or an incident. We will not be ‘doxed’.

‘A key aspect of that trust, consistent with international rights law since the 1940s, is that our privacy will be protected. We assume officials – and private sector entities they use as their agents – will not be negligent in safeguarding personal information.

‘We also assume they will not share personal information with other agencies unless there is a substantive need for that sharing – for example, for national security or to prevent harm to an individual. And we expect they will not disclose personal information to the media or directly to the community at large as a way of silencing criticism or resolving disputes.

‘Australia has a sophisticated body of administrative law and ombudsmen. So, there is no need for public shaming of people who disagree with ministers, officials or databases.’

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