David Rolph reviews 'Intellectual Privacy' by Neil Richards

Privacy is dead, or so it is regularly pronounced. There are many suspects: big government; big business; the media; social media; technology; us, for giving of ourselves too readily and allowing our privacy to shrivel and die. Even if privacy is not yet dead, it is said to be under threat on multiple fronts.

The most recent threat is the mandatory data retention legislation, passed by the Commonwealth Parliament with bipartisan support. Concerns about the privacy of individuals making phone calls, searching the Internet, sending emails and acting as sources for journalists were ultimately subordinated to concerns about national security.

There is no real political appetite among the major parties to protect privacy in Australia. This contrasts sharply with the interest law reform bodies have shown in the issue of privacy. In the last seven years, the Australian Law Reform Commission has twice investigated the issue of privacy. The law reform commissions in New South Wales and Victoria have also reported on privacy. Their recommendations have largely been neglected by legislatures. In response to the first ALRC report, the Gillard government released an issues paper on whether Australia should introduce a statutory cause of action for serious invasion of privacy. After receiving submissions, it decided to do nothing itself, but rather commissioned the ALRC to provide another report. Before the ALRC had submitted its second report, the new attorney-general, Senator George Brandis, dismissed out of hand the need for any such cause of action.

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Published in May 2015, no. 371