This article argues that current laws are ill-equipped to deal with the multifaceted threats to individual privacy by governments, corporations and our own need to participate in the information society.
In the era of big data, where people find themselves surveilled in ever more finely granulated aspects of their lives, and where the data profiles built from an accumulation of data gathered about themselves and others are used to predict as well as shape their behaviours, the question of privacy protection arises constantly. In this article we interrogate whether the discourse of privacy is sufficient to address this new paradigm of information flow and control. What we confront in this area is a set of practices concerning the collection, aggregation, sharing, interrogation and uses of data on a scale that crosses private and public boundaries, jurisdictional boundaries, and importantly, the boundaries between reality and simulation. The consequences of these practices are emerging as sometimes useful and sometimes damaging to governments, citizens and commercial organisations. Understanding how to regulate this sphere of activity to address the harms, to create an infrastructure of accountability, and to bring more transparency to the practices mentioned, is a challenge of some complexity. Using privacy frameworks may not provide the solutions or protections that ultimately are being sought.
This article is concerned with data gathering and surveillance practices, by business and government, and the implications for individual privacy in the face of widespread collection and use of big data. We will firstly outline the practices around data and the issues that arise from such practices. We then consider how courts in the United Kingdom (‘UK’) and the United States (‘US’) are attempting to frame these issues using current legal frameworks, and finish by considering the Australian context. Notably the discourse around privacy protection differs significantly across these jurisdictions, encompassing elements of constitutional rights and freedoms, specific legislative schemes, data protection, anti-terrorist and criminal laws, tort and equity. This lack of a common understanding of what is or what should be encompassed within privacy makes it a very fragile creature indeed.
On the basis of the exploration of these issues, we conclude that current laws are ill-equipped to deal with the multifaceted threats to individual privacy by governments, corporations and our own need to participate in the information society.