Law Reform Commission calls for national surveillance laws

ABC Rural

By Catherine McAloon

Photo: Drones have emerged as a tool for animal rights groups to capture footage of farm production. (MFB DVD: supplied)

Related Story: Cattle industry calls for drone laws

The Australian Law Reform Commission is recommending new national laws governing surveillance.

The Commission has completed its inquiry into ‘Serious Invasions of Privacy in the Digital Era’, which found there’s very little consistency in current state and territory laws dealing with surveillance and many states don’t even have laws covering optical surveillance devices, like cameras and drones.

Audio: Barbara McDonald of the Australian Law Reform Commission and Dougal Gordon of the Australian Lot Feeders Association on a recommendation for national surveillance laws. (ABC News)

Commissioner Barbara McDonald, who led the inquiry, says a Commonwealth Act replacing existing state and territory laws would better protect the privacy of individuals.

"Considering that anti-surveillance legislation is really very much something that protects people’s privacy, it seems to us that it’s a good idea that it be made consistent," she said.

The Commission has recommended that surveillance legislation be drafted in a way that is ‘technology neutral’.

"No legislature, or law reform body, can predict what’s coming in next," Commissioner McDonald said.

"Every mobile phone now is a camera, it’s a potential surveillance device, that would not have been predicted years ago.

"Drones are something very new, the affordability of drones and those sorts of devices.

"The law can’t keep up with the technology. I think what you’ve got to do is you’ve actually got to deal with the activity, rather than the technology that’s being used."

A cattle industry group has welcomed the recommendation for national surveillance laws, saying they could prevent unauthorised drone activity over farms.

The Australian Lot Feeders Association (ALFA) made a submission to the Law Reform Commission inquiry, citing concerns about animal activist groups using drones to capture footage over farms without permission.

ALFA chief executive officer Dougal Gordon says privacy legislation hasn’t kept up with advances in technology and the widespread use of drones.

"We’re happy to have people through the front door, in fact, we conduct thousands of feed lot tours every year. We’re very proud of our systems and our people and what we do in terms of animal welfare.

"But if people utilise drones without the permission of owners and then surreptitiously utilise that footage for malicious purposes against the industry, now that’s where we have a concern."