09 April 2019

AgGag and the Privacy Act

The national Government has retained the $3m threshold under the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth), ie most SMEs are exempt from the provisions of one of Australia's core information privacy statutes. Inconsistently, however, it has indicated that it will target animal rights activists.

A joint media release by the Agriculture Minister and Attorney-General last week states
Protecting Australian farmers’ privacy 
The Coalition Government will bring the Aussie Farms website under the Privacy Act, exposing it to potential penalties of more than $2.1 million if it breaches the Act.bring the Aussie Farms website under the Privacy Act, exposing it to potential penalties of more than $2.1 million if it breaches the Act. 
Attorney-General, Christian Porter, said the activities of Aussie Farms Incorporated created an unacceptable risk to hardworking farming communities and producers. 
"The company publishes information about Australian farmers and agricultural producers including their names and addresses, exposing them to potential trespass, biosecurity hazards, and reputational damage," the Attorney-General said. 
"Listing this activist group as an organisation under the Privacy Act, now means that the company will have to abide by the provisions of the Act." 
Minister for Agriculture, David Littleproud, said he had repeatedly asked Aussie Farms to take the website down before someone was hurt or worse, but the group behind the website flat refused. 
"The farming families who grow our food deserve to be able to do so without fear of invasion on their property and harm to their children," Minister Littleproud said. 
One response might be that all Australians deserve protection.
"The Aussie Farms website is intended to be an attack map for activists and it is already working as one. The fact Aussie Farms refused to take the website down when invasions began happening on farms displayed on their map shows they intend for it to be used as an attack map for activists. 
The 'intention' has not been proved in a court of law but will presumably resonate with some readers of reportage based on the media release.
"Aussie Farms will now be required to comply with the Privacy Act, which includes laws against the misuse of personal information. I note the maximum penalty for an offence under the Privacy Act is $2.1 million." 
Minister Littleproud also called on state governments to beef up trespass laws to provide real penalties for trespass, and to make publicly state that they expect the police will uphold these laws. 
The Australian Information and Privacy Commissioner previously found that Aussie Farms Incorporated was exempt from the Privacy Act because its annual turnover was less than $3 million. 
This move means Aussie Farms Incorporated is prescribed as an 'organisation' under the Privacy Act, which requires Aussie Farms to act in accordance with the Privacy Act, regardless of its annual turnover. 
Prescribing Aussie Farms Incorporated allows the Information and Privacy Commissioner to investigate, either in response to a complaint or on her own initiative, if Aussie Farms Incorporated breaches the Privacy Act. The prescription comes into force as of tomorrow (Saturday, 6th April).