: Protesters and privacy

Protesters and privacy

Nicholas Croggon

On 27 September 2012 the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (‘VCAT’) handed down its decision in Lisa Caripis v Victoria Police [2012] VCAT 1472, a case about protesters’ privacy.

Lisa Caripis, a researcher and writer on climate change law, attended a protest in 2010 at the Hazelwood Power Station to raise awareness about the possibilities for transitioning from dirty energy sources like brown coal to cleaner renewable energies. The protest was a peaceful, family-friendly day, attended by around 250 people — and about as many police. Throughout the day the police filmed protesters, including Ms Caripis — an experience that was disconcerting for her. After the protest, despite Ms Caripis’s requests, the police refused to destroy the footage.

Ms Caripis, represented by the Environment Defenders Office, brought an action against the Victoria Police under the Information Privacy Act 2000, arguing that the Act required the police to destroy the footage as, given the peaceful nature of the protest, they no longer had any need for it. Ms Caripis also argued that the police’s retention of footage of her was a breach of her rights to privacy and freedom of association and peaceful assembly, as protected by the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006.

The police argued that even though the protest was peaceful, the footage was needed for, among other reasons, intelligence purposes: ‘the climate in which [the police] work is so affected by climate change that all information is potentially relevant’.

VCAT ultimately found that the police’s retention of the footage did not breach Ms Caripis privacy or her human rights. VCAT accepted the police evidence that the footage was needed for intelligence purposes, for the purposes of planning for future protests and to comply with the Public Records Act 1973, which required the police to retain footage for a certain period of time.

The case gives some much needed clarity on the extent of the privacy protected by the Information Privacy Act and the right to privacy under the Victorian human rights Charter. The decision indicates that Victoria’s privacy laws have some way to go. Police retention of footage of Lisa Caripis attending a peaceful protest made her feel her privacy was being infringed, and that her rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly were being interfered with. The case underlines that people in such a position are not protected by Victoria’s privacy laws — and that perhaps these laws need review.

NICHOLAS CROGGON is a solicitor at the Environment Defenders Office Victoria, a community legal centre that helps people use the law to protect the environment.

(2012) 37(4) AltLJ 290
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