Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Attitudes to electronic commerce & privacy – “down under”

“Electronic commerce is a lot like sex: it involves two (or more) consensual partners engaging in (and usually completing) a ‘transaction’. Surrounding this seemingly simple act, however, are a myriad of legal, cultural and social issues – consent, trust, privacy, loyalty, competitiveness, safety, potential abuse of power and exploitation. In both contexts, there are even nasty ‘viruses’ to be avoided. Among the most crucial of the issues to be addressed in order to have fulfilling – and safe – e-commerce is the protection of privacy.”

A friend passed me quote this quite recently and I thought it was a joke. Surely, I thought to myself, such language could only come from a comic. The similes were so tortured that, if it really were a quote, it could only have come from someone with a very raw sense of humour.

But I was assured that it was a genuine quote, and that it had been attributed to an Australian.

Oh, I thought to myself, then it must be a quote from Sir Les Patterson, the erudite Australian Cultural Attaché (whom you never see in the same room these days as Dame Edna Everage, or the comedian Barry Humphries, for that matter).

Oh no, I was reliably assured. Actually, it’s an extract from a speech from the then Australian Privacy Commissioner, Moira Scollay! And I now learn that while she spoke those works in 1998, she didn't actually write the speech herself. That task was carried out by Dr Anthony Bendall, who is now the Deputy Privacy Commissioner.

I wish he would help me with my speeches on data protection ...

If you are similarly broad minded and fancy reading more about Australian attitudes to privacy, you could do far worse than point your browser at the quarterly bulletins published by the Office of the Victorian Privacy Commissioner. They may live a long way away from Blighty, but they are, spookily, facing exactly the same challenges as us all. And their views, pragmatic and workmanlike, are a joy to read.

Try this link for a bit more from some of Australia’s finest: http://www.privacy.vic.gov.au/privacy/web.nsf/download/22E668CCDF3EB0A3CA25776D00050F3A/$FILE/Privacy%20Aware%20Winter%202010.pdf