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Private data public rules

By Julie Bishop - posted Thursday, 6 September 2012

Legendary 18th century British author Samuel Johnson is most often credited with the quote, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”.

Regardless of its source, that powerful message has resonated through the centuries.

It is a warning against actions which are deliberately or inadvertently presented as bringing benefits to society but which have hidden or unforeseen consequences that are ultimately negative.


The right to privacy is not something we should surrender unquestioningly to those who claim to have our best interests at heart.

For example Australians generally expect that if they are acting within the law they can go about their lives without fear of harassment or surveillance from law enforcement or security agencies.

That applies to personal conversations, private telephone conversations and the use of online technologies.

While many people may feel uneasy about the proliferation of CCTV cameras for surveillance in public places, the majority accept this intrusion on their privacy as they recognise that it helps reduce crime and can be used to identify perpetrators of criminal or anti-social behaviour.

This acceptance is reliant on the responsible use of the security footage.

Public support for such measures would wane quickly if such material were used to embarrass or humiliate people who had committed no crimes.


This is exemplified by the ongoing controversy in the United States about the use of full body scanners at airports and the unauthorised release of footage revealing intimate body details of travellers.

The case for the introduction of full body scanners assumes that public concern about the threat of terrorism outweighs concern about the potential invasion of privacy.

However there are powerful arguments for why societies should not give up their freedoms lightly and most certainly not without adequate scrutiny.

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About the Author

Julie Bishop is the Federal Member for Curtin, Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs.

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