Kirby fights for right to legal action over privacy breaches

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Former High Court judge Michael Kirby has spoken out about privacy breaches, pushing for laws allowing people to sue for damages for invasions of privacy.

In a speech in Sydney, Kirby said he’s been fighting for such laws for 40 years, describing the fact that no “adequate” laws currently exist in Australia as “unacceptable”.

“The conduct of relentless personal campaigns against individuals is a feature now of much contemporary Australian media, not only in the print media and not only in tabloids,” Kirby said, adding that the emergence of social media has made the problem worse.

“Media and other publishers become judge and jury of their own abuses.  They decide whether any correction or redress for breaches of privacy will be granted.  The law is effectively silent for those who want to challenge such self-interested decisions.”

A NSW parliamentary committee recently examined the issue and recommended creating new legal action for serious invasion of privacy, according to a report by the ABC.

Kirby criticised the federal Parliament for not acting on recommendations, despite four reports by the Law Reform Commission.

“I think our politicians have been bamboozled by the media and maybe even bullied into doing nothing in these cases,” he said in an interview with the ABC.

“I'm not saying it should be open slather because someone's upset that their privacy has been invaded but I believe most Australians would be offended by instances of serious invasion of privacy, and they would be surprised and shocked that those privacy laws don't exist.

“So we need laws, preferably federal laws, but because the federal Parliament has messed around with this for over 40 years, we remain in the position that there really are no adequate laws.

“The time has come, I think, for the NSW Parliament to step in and provide protection for its citizens.”

Complaints could be heard informally by the privacy commissioner, Kirby said.

“It's not expensive to go to the privacy commissioner so presumably most people would opt to go there in the first instance,” he said.

“It's not that there are going to be thousands of people coming to bring action when they just get offended because it's extremely expensive to mount a legal action in court and people don't have that sort of money.”

The ABC reported that the NSW Government will respond to the committee’s recommendation to bring in privacy laws in September.

“This is just about little people who are insulted, humiliated, belittled and have their privacy invaded ... and they have no remedy under the law of Australia,” Kirby said.

“If the Federal Government won't do it, then it's up to the state governments to look after the citizens of their state.”