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Clarke unleashes blast on privacy

AUSTRALIAN Privacy Medal winner Roger Clarke has accused businesses and government agencies of "investing in image'' and "playing the public for fools'' over privacy concerns in the surveillance age.

In a broadside unleashed at the annual Privacy Awards dinner in Sydney, Dr Clarke said organisations had become "habituated to hands-off stances by parliaments and by regulators'', and simply "got on and did'' whatever they wanted.

"Public thoroughfares are being converted from anonymous use to identified use, and not one privacy or human rights commissioner takes any interest,'' he said. "Police, working through CrimTrac, regard the building of a national vehicle surveillance database as unthreatening to democracy.

"And agencies demand access to body fluids and people's biometric measurements on the flimsiest of excuses, and in the absence of any effective regulatory framework.''

Dr Clarke, who is chair of the Australian Privacy Foundation, a visiting professor in computing science at the University of NSW and the Australian National University, and a private consultant, received the prestigious award from Special Minister of State Joe Ludwig in recognition of more than 35 years work in the field.

Dr Clarke said public interest representatives were being kept at arm's length, and disenfranchised by terms such as "the same old faces''.

"Organisations as diverse as the Human Services Department, the ABC, the National E-Health Transition Authority and the major banks act as though advocates have horns on their heads, and do everything they can to avoid engagement,'' he said. But the foundation "advocates all wear suits, they are conservative, and they don't have horns''.

Debacles such as the Howard government's ultimately dumped Access Card program occurred "when public servants were allowed to get utterly out of touch with the real world''.

"There will be more massive disappointments, not least in the e-health arena, because the lessons aren't being learnt.''


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