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Former Privacy Commissioner: Andrews Government could face class action over breach

Victoria’s Former Privacy Commissioner says the government could face a class action over the breach which saw private citizens’ personal information leaked.

David Watts, who was Privacy Commissioner until last year, now Professor of Information Law and Policy at La Trobe University, told Neil Mitchell the damages could be in the millions.

“Just on my quick scan of it, indicates it goes a long way beyond breach of privacy,” he said.

“You’ve got questions of negligence, breach of confidence, breaches of the Charter of Human Rights, breaches of legal/professional privilege in cases that were unrelated to this particular planning case and possible contempt of court, misconduct and misuse of public office and breaches of the Victorian protective data security framework, which is the security standards the Victorian Government is obliged to implement.”

NM: Some MPs are calling this a minor breach, does it look minor to you?

DW: I think we’re in class action territory, it is not a minor breach, those affected would be well advised to seek legal advice on how best to prosecute this through the courts.

NM: An apology doesn’t sort it out does it?

DW: No. The damage has been done.

NW: If it’s seen through and your views are substantiated in front of the Supreme Court, I assume it costs money?

DW: It costs lots of money. Once your privacy has been breached, you can never, ever have it returned to you. There have been substantial settlements made in Australia. The matters rarely get to court to be decided because they usually settle, and some of those settlements can be really, really substantial.

NW: How big?

DW: Into the millions.

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But Victoria’s current Information Commissioner Sven Bluemmel says the documents are subject to parliamentary privilege so may not be a breach.

“Normally there would almost certainly be a potential breach in terms of what’s happened here, if this had been done by a government department,” Mr Bluemmel said.

“The difference here that they were tabled in parliament, so it is subject to parliamentary privilege.

“I simply wouldn’t be able to (investigate if someone made a complaint) of I started investigating something like this I would almost certainly be in contempt of the parliament myself.”

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