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Telstra case shows gaps in privacy laws.

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Australian Democrats Press Releases

Senator Natasha Stott Despoja Democrats Senator for South Australia Australian Democrats spokesperson for Attorney Generals

Dated: 31 August 2005 Press Release Number: 05/430 Portfolio: Attorney Generals Related: Attorney General & Justice

Telstra case shows gaps in privacy laws

Revelations that Telstra has authorised the collection of information about employees' race, religion, political affiliation, trade union association and sexual preferences are a disgrace, according to the Australian Democrats.

"Telstra's claim that it is operating within current privacy laws simply highlights the deficiency of those laws, particularly given the fact that employee records held by current or former employers are exempt from the Privacy Act," Democrats' Privacy Spokesperson Senator Natasha Stott Despoja said.

According to today's reports, the authorisation for such an invasion of privacy can be based on Telstras suspicion that an employee is acting 'in breach of an employment contract or in a way damaging to Telstra'.

"This is an alarmingly loose guideline," Senator Stott Despoja said.

"I would like Telstra to explain exactly what purpose it serves for it to have information relating to their staffs political affiliations, trade union membership, religious belief or sexual preference?

"Employers simply do not need to know this level of information about their staff.

"More disturbingly, this information could be nothing more than the opinion of Telstra management based on employee monitoring and surveillance of their staff. This is a disgrace. Imagine a permanent record based on somebodys suspicions about your sexual life or philosophical beliefs.

"Furthermore, it appears toilets, showers and change rooms can be monitored with the approval of senior security. I would like to know, as I am sure would Telstra staff, under what circumstances Telstra would propose such monitoring? Most Australians would be very uncomfortable knowing that their employers held such information.

"This is a needless and objectionable intrusion that has nothing to do with how people conduct themselves at work.

"That our privacy laws would allow such a level of intrusion is one of the reasons I initiated the recent Senate inquiry into the Privacy Act. Clearly the committee's recommendation, that the Australian Government undertake a comprehensive review of privacy regulations and the Privacy Act, should be acted upon immediately," Senator Stott Despoja said.