Securing your privacy online
By Dr Mark Burdon, TC Beirne School of Law
My research primarily involves the complex area of privacy law, particularly in the online environment.
It is a fast-moving area in which the law is in constant competition with rapid technological and social advances. For example, the world of 20 years’ ago was one without access to Google, Facebook and smart phones. And yet look what has happened in the early part of 2012 alone. Google has admitted bypassing the settings of Safari and Internet Explorer users to track their online activities. US employers are now asking prospective employees for their Facebook passwords so they can check their pages. Some iPhone apps have surreptitiously transferred the contents of address books without the user’s knowledge or consent. These near-ubiquitous technologies are revolutionising personal information usage and have consequently started to re-shape our understandings of privacy and our requirements of privacy laws. It is these requirements that have been at the forefront of my research.
My previous work examined the privacy problems that arose from user-generated content, online maps and the potential implications for individuals and content providers. Data breach notification law has also been a significant research interest. Did you know that if an Australian company loses control of your personal information, either by accident or by hacking, they are not legally obliged to tell you about the loss of your information?
In the US, there are data breach notification laws which require public and private sector organisations to notify individuals when personal information has been lost or stolen. My research investigated to what extent these laws are compatible with Australian information privacy law. I concluded that data breach notification is an important adjunct to information privacy law but that it should be considered under the more extensive rubric of information security law – a new development in itself that seeks to impose legal obligations in relation to organisational information security requirements.
So what am I looking at now? My research takes two very different strands. At the theoretical level, I am constructing a new framework that melds critical legal theories of information privacy law with sociological forms of power. This framework will help to identify power imbalances in personal information exchange and help to re-shape information privacy law in relation to controversial forms of personal information collection, storage and use. At a practical level, I am working with colleagues from QUT on an important project that examines the sharing of information within the Queensland Government for disaster response purposes. Disaster management situations have enormous and extremely complicated information requirements. Data is required and received from a vast number of sources and it has to be examined, verified and shared in as near-to-real-time as possible. My colleagues and I are helping the Government identify existing legal restrictions that inhibit information sharing, and to develop new legal frameworks to enhance information management in disaster response situations.
Privacy law and the regulation of information technology is a fascinating area to research. It’s challenging because the sands are always shifting and the law is constantly responding to new developments. However, these challenges do not mean that we have “zero privacy” and we should simply just “get over it”, as Scott McNeally famously suggested back in 1999. On the contrary, our need for privacy in the digital age requires an ongoing review of the abilities of privacy law to provide meaningful protections, in conjunction with ongoing development of new technological, legal and social responses to privacy infringements.
Privacy isn’t dead. It’s a multifaceted element of the human condition that has recently become increasingly complex due to rapid technological development. The question is – how should the law respond to these evolving complexities? That’s a question I look forward to thinking about for some time to come.
In This Section
IN THIS EDITION
- marie hayes: loved her loved the discussion and considering she was in her mid eighties her intelligence was still...
- Thomas Anderson: RIP Chris.
- John Brannock: I recently wrote the following email which is self explanatory: “Dear Professor Høj, I would...
- Dr Mary Tan: Hi Prof Peter Hoj I’m Mary from S’pore, graduated from UniSA. Was glad to read updates...
- Dane: Hello. magnificent job. I did not expect this. This is a excellent story. Thanks!