The information society of the 21st century will grapple with privacy issues on many levels. Privacy issues will frequently form part of wider social and political dilemmas about the role of public and private institutions and the use of various technologies. How our society resolves these privacy dilemmas will depend on the extent of the trust that we are willing to place in governments, corporations, technology, and in each other as individuals. In the process of dealing with these issues we will not just be shaping how we use particular technologies but redrawing the boundaries of the state, corporations and the individual, and shaping the balance between the interests of freedom, human dignity, justice, public order and economic efficiency.
These will clearly not be easy issues to resolve. They will often involve powerful interests ranged against the powerless. They will involve tangible economic benefits competing with intangible notions of human dignity and fairness. And, in many cases, they will involve legitimate but competing claims on public policy and on institutions, corporations and governments.
This issue of the University of New South Wales Law Journal Forum contemplates the place of privacy protection in the context of early 21st century Australian law. As with many areas of law, what emerges is something of a jumble. While it is possible to see threads of reason in the stunted development of common law recognition of privacy rights over time, the new statutory privacy regime in Australia, which will come into effect from December 2001, while generally extending privacy rights, is weakened by wide exemptions and deep inadequacies. At best, it is a step towards establishing a consistent legal framework for protecting individual privacy; however, many of the contributors to this issue contemplate far more negative interpretations of its role in the evolving recognition of privacy rights in Australia.