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Personal Information Privacy
Confidentiality of Personal Information
Physical Personal Privacy
Personal Character and Reputation
Courts & Tribunals
For each of us "privacy" law in a broader sense includes our personal information, restrictions on the use and distribution of that information, whether by other individuals, or government departments and instrumentalities, medical, health record and personal confidentiality, and the rights to engage in private sexual conduct, not be subject to physical interference, the right to peace and quiet enjoyment of our homes and to our perhaps hard-earned good character and reputation.
All these rights are under continual pressure of erosion and for the gay and lesbian community are particularly important. The following brief notes may assist you to better understand some of these issues.
Please read the disclaimer.
Many jurisdictions have privacy laws enacted. In Australia, the Commonwealth government agencies holding personal information are governed by the Commonwealth Privacy Act 1988, which sets out 11 "information privacy principles" to be followed by all government departments and agencies regulated by the Act must follow in their handling and use of personal information.
The principles established under the Act include such matters as:
Where you believe there has been a breach of one or more of these principles by a government department or agency, you may make a complaint to the Privacy Commissioner who has the power to investigate the complaint, make a determination and even impose a penalty on the government body. Further, either you or the Privacy Commissioner may initiate Federal Court proceedings to enforce a determination of the Privacy Commissioner.
Where you disclose information in confidence to another person, be they an individual or part of an organisation or government department or agency, in certain circumstances, the law recognises a duty not to disclose that information. The duty may arise as a consequence of a particular confidential relationship between you and the other person, (for example between you and your solicitor, or your doctor), or because it is contained in a contract or because it would be unfair or unconscionable for the other person to disclose such information in the circumstances.
You will be aware that the parliament may legislate to override the duty not to disclose personal information and indeed require that particular information be disclosed, for example the law in all States and Territories in Australia requires doctors to notify the government health authorities of HIV positive status and the AIDS-related conditions of their patients. In this instance the anti-discrimination laws also play a part to protect you.
See also: GayLawNet® - Information - Discrimination.
The law protects you from being physically threatened (assault) or beaten (battery) and compensation or damages for these trespasses to the person may be pursued in the civil courts quite apart from these acts being the subject of the criminal law.
Sexual conduct between consenting adults in private places is now also protected from interference by State or Commonwealth instrumentatilies.
Your residential privacy is protected by the Residential Tenancies Act. Where you are a tenant and your landlord is in breach of allowing you guiet enjoyment of your home, you may take your complaint to the Residential Tenancies Tribunal.
If as an owner-occupier, your neighbours are invading your privacy, you may have an action to recover damages for any trespass to your land or nuisance.
See also: Noise below.
If a person makes or implies untruthful allegations concerning your character or reputation, you may have the right to bring an defamation action for damages to your reputation. However, such actions are notoriously difficult to bring and a successful outcome is often unobtainable, with laws varying across jurisdictions.
A common neighbourhood problem, especially during the summer months is noise. The problem may be solved in most instances by calm and rational discussion between the parties.
It is recommended that you first approach your neighbour directly, however if this is not successful you may be able to arrange for the Dispute Settlement Centre to mediate the problem.
An alternative is to have your solicitor write to the neighbour, inviting discussion to resolve the problem.
If all the above fails to resolve the issue, most Municipal Councils have local laws designed to control or prevent objectionable levels of noise. You can check with your Council and if there is a current local law, the responsible officer may take action on your behalf against the offending neighbour.
Other options may include action under the Victorian Environment Protection Act (EPA) and Health Act (or similar Acts or Ordinances in other jurisdictions) where it is an offence to emit a noise which is "unreasonable, dangerous to health or offensive" from "residential premises", which includes gardens and outbuildings.
In Victoria, for example, certain restrictions prohibit noise from mechanical sources outside of certain hours set by the Environment Protection (Residential Noise) Regulations:
lawnmowers or equipment with internal combustion engines, electric power tools, saws, air-compressors, jack hammers and noisy equipment may only be used from 7am to 8pm Mondays to Fridays and from 9am to 8pm on weekends and public holidays.
amplified musical instruments, stereos, radios and TV sets may only be used from 7am to 10pm on Mondays to Thursdays, 7am to 11pm on Fridays, 9am to 11pm on Saturdays and public holidays after 9am to 11pm and on Sundays from 9am to 10pm.
What is "unreasonable"?
Even where a noise is not covered by the regulations it may still be unreasonable because if its volume, duration or the circumstances in which it is emitted.
Provided you can prove that the noise causes you a substantial and unreasonable interference with the use and enjoyment of your property, you may be able to commence legal proceedings in the Court for private nuisance, claiming compensation for discomfort and irritation and an injunction to restrain your neighbour from causing further noise.
To greatly enhance your chances of success you should keep a diary of all occurences of unreasonable noise, detailing the date, time and duration of the noise you regard as unreasonable and any contact with your neighbour in regard to that noise. Court action should be regarded as a last resort, it being difficult to predict the results, expensive, time consuming and certain to destroy any remaining good relations with your neighbour.
Under the EPA the police have power to check noise and a call to them may be an effective remedy. On-the-spot fines may be issued by the police if an offence has been committed.
In 2003, a judgment of the Queensland District Court [in Grosse v Purvis  QDC 151 (16 June 2003)] found a new common law right to recover damages.
Judge Skoien declared that Australian law now allows an individual to recover damages for mental, psychological or emotional harm, including embarrassment, hurt, distress and post traumatic stress disorder, where 'a willed act of another intrudes on their privacy or seculsion in a manner which would be considered highly offensive to a reasonable person' (at 444).
He also held that damages could be awarded for any enforces changes of lifestyle caused by such an intrusion upon a person's privacy or seclusion.