Consumer digital rights advocates have rejected media companies’ call to preserve their exemption to privacy law, arguing that commercial interests should not be prioritized over public interest. The Australian Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology’s director, Peter Lewis, stated that it was “disappointing” that the Right to Know coalition, which was formed to safeguard journalists and whistleblowers, was now being employed to advance Big Media’s business objectives at the expense of the public they claim to serve.
The attorney general’s department has suggested creating a right to sue for severe invasions of privacy and reducing the journalism exemption to privacy law. This would necessitate media companies to secure and destroy private information and notify affected individuals under the notifiable data breaches scheme. On Monday, the Right to Know coalition, which includes the Guardian, News Corp, Nine, AAP, Free TV Australia, the media union, and public broadcasters the ABC and SBS, dismissed the proposal, warning that it would undermine press freedom.
The Centre for Responsible Technology’s submission stated that it was “supportive” of the department’s proposed reforms, which represent “the first significant upgrade of privacy laws in four decades.”
According to the Centre for Responsible Technology, “the business models around the commercial exploitation of personal data have grown exponentially as have the human consequences of these models.” These changes not only compromise individuals’ privacy but also undermine civil society structures, leading to increased polarization and a weakened public realm.
The Centre for Responsible Technology emphasized that privacy law reform was central to the competition regulator’s 2019 digital platforms inquiry, which resulted in the creation of the world-first news media bargaining code, enabling media companies to earn millions in revenue from Facebook and Google.
Balancing Journalism and Privacy Rights
The submission stated that any attempt to weaken the reforms proposed by the attorney general would fundamentally undermine the integrity of the broader package of reforms. Media companies that were vocal in arguing for the public interest in mitigating big tech’s growing monopoly power should also support the proposed new privacy measures, according to the Centre.
The University of Technology Sydney’s human technology institute called for urgent privacy law reform in light of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and facial recognition. It argued that because harming the right to privacy could only be justified in limited circumstances, it was difficult, if not impossible, to justify a blanket exemption to privacy law for all journalists and political parties.
According to Ed Santow, co-director of the Institute, the “activity” of journalism may warrant a limitation on the right to privacy, rather than journalists and media companies enjoying a blanket exemption. He noted that not all media organizations in all of their activities, some of which have nothing to do with journalism, should be exempt from the right to privacy.
Santow stated that this approach could broaden the protection to include people outside of media companies engaged in journalism. He warned that it would be a “tragedy” if areas where the law was “dangerously out of date” – such as regulating facial recognition – did not progress because of a small number of controversial issues in the proposed package, including “media organizations and small businesses defending their privileged position.”
Digital Rights Watch called for the abolition of exemptions for small businesses and political parties and supported the department’s proposal to scale back the journalism exemption.