Australian Civil Liberties Union

The Nanny State


We live in an era when Big Brother State has innumerable rules and regulations to control our lives. There are so many different laws no one can keep track of them all.

The article in Herald-Sun, 14/2/00, by Tim Jamieson, headed "The Nanny State" demonstrates a plethora of rules in each municipality, some of which are petty and even ridiculous. For example, Melbourne City Council can fine drivers who pull out of demolition or building sites with dirty wheels. There is no consistency or logic in many laws.

The question for the civil libertarian is to what extent these laws are desirable and necessary, and how far they are needlessly restrictive. In many cases, these laws are unnecessary.

John Bennett, President of the Australian Civil Liberties Union, was quoted in the Herald-Sun, 14/2/00, as saying that: "in many ways we've become a nanny state, in which we have too many tiers of government and too many bureaucrats who feel happier being armed with some very unnecessary laws. It's a delicate balance to get a society which functions well but is not over-governed, particularly in an officious way." Mr Bennett blamed public apathy for not challenging officious laws.

There are many areas in which the laws need amendment or abolition. A problem for Victorian citizens was created when the former Victorian Premier, Jeff Kennett, passed laws abolishing many common law rights. These laws, and many others, may remain on the statute books owing to government inertia even if they involve injustices or legalize irrational decisions.

One important aspect is privacy. The Australian Civil Liberties Union has made a submission to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs concerning the Privacy Amendment (Private Sector) Bill 2000, arguing that it does not have enough safeguards to prevent access by unauthorised persons to data bank records held on citizens, and with "function creep". The ACLU has also issued a statement on "Data Bank of Medical Records", posted on the ACLU website at (databank.htm), with comments that medical records in data banks could be released to the private sector without the patients' consent. The Australian Medical Association has expressed concerns that a long tradition of medical confidentiality could be breached by a medical data bank, while the proposed use of DNA data banks by police poses problems of abuse of such evidence by police or law enforcement officials.

Another area in which privacy is a concern is the use of e-tags in Melbourne for use with CityLink. The personal details of people using CityLink may not be kept private. In an effort to track down those who use CityLink roads without either an e-tag account or a day pass, the tollway's owner, Transburban, will photograph cars using the tollway illegally, which will then be passed to police for their identification. This puts the police in the role of debt collectors for Transburban but, possibly more significantly, provides opportunities for trading in information, releasing details of cars to unauthorised persons.

One who has warned about the dangers of police abuse, Raymond Hoser, who has written a book on police corruption, has argued that massive corruption exists within the Force, much of which, if it ever comes to light, emerges years later.

While many companies with databanks insist that they have adequate safeguards, nevertheless there is potential for hackers to invade these databanks and breach privacy. Even NASA, the US space agency, was breached by hackers from RMIT. It seems that whatever the safeguards, a determined hacker can penetrate them.



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Australian Civil Liberties Union