Online privacy – does it exist?
Right now lawyers across the globe are licking their lips as the “Ashley Madison hacking scandal” unravels for the world to see. Ashley Madison is a website that facilitates affairs between married people, and in July, its website was hacked and the personal information of millions of its users stolen and published on the internet.
Disgruntled users of the website are now arming themselves with class action lawyers to sue Ashley Madison, particularly in Canada, where Ashley Madison is based.
The saga also raises an interesting question here in Australia: how is our private information regulated online?
The regulation of private information online is a grey area because the online world is boundless, so the next time you enter your personal information into a website, think about the following:
- Typically the Privacy Act 1988, which sets out the rules of the storage and use of private information in Australia, only relates to websites based in Australia – if you are plugging your data into a foreign based website, chances are you aren’t protected by Australian privacy law
- If an Australian organisation wants to collect data about you, they usually have to tell you, and disclose the purpose for which it is being collected
- There are rules in place about data that is collected in Australia but sent overseas i.e. the entity collecting and sending the data must take reasonable steps to ensure that the use of that data complies with Australian law
- You have the right to know what information private entities are holding about you and how that information is being used (e.g. Facebook)
- The Privacy Act 1988 doesn’t apply to individuals, so if a person is misusing your information, you will have to look at different legal avenues to address this.
The biggest challenge faced by Ashley Madison members is that the internet is forever. No amount of law suits is going to erase the information that is now floating around in cyberspace. The next time a dialogue box pops up, make sure you read it before you click “Agree”. You may be agreeing to the storage and dissemination of your private information without even knowing it.