The Privacy Commissioner: an oxymoron

Privacy Commissioner John Edwards Photo / John Stone.

Accepting that freedom and rights are temporarily suspended in times of emergency, global, national or local, either on an individual basis or collectively, is part of the social contract we must keep.

The reasons for such suspensions are as obvious as myriad.

Accepting that non-public bodies have domain over use of their products and services may be an irritant, but to disavow that right is to infringe on their rights as owners and operators to determine how their products and services are portrayed; provided they are not a monopoly supplier, users are free to use a competitor.

Thus when our major internet providers colluded within 48 hours of the dreadful massacre to suspend access to websites they deemed as ?actively hosting? video of the awful event, they were within their rights as owners of the mechanism to publish or access those shocking images. We may argue inconsistency or make claims of corporate censorship and bullying, but at the end of the day, they may exercise their proprietary rights this way, regardless of the argument that relatively inoffensive sites such as zerohedge may be caught in the ?ban?.

For the Privacy Commissioner, though, to encourage private providers to ?hand over? personal information to law enforcement for the purposes of prosecution of some of their users is a mockery of the man?s position, an abuse of his power, and a disgrace to his office.

One has to ask??-what was he thinking? quote.

Mr Edwards said Facebook should be notifying police of the account names of the people sharing this content. end quote.

Had that statement been uttered by a politician we might have dismissed it as hyperbole; had it been issued from law-enforcement officials we might consider it draconian, but that it stems from the Privacy Commissioner charged with sober analysis of issues regarding privacy and our rights, or lack of, makes an oxymoron of his title.

Mr Edwards’s position is an appalling betrayal of the principles on which the office was established, and he should be censured. It is a reversal of the presumption of innocence underpinning our justice system and an abrogation of his duty to inform argument and provide leadership and counsel regarding matters of privacy. When we need wise heads to prevail in this time of horrors, Edwards has simply lost, not only his head, but all respect for his position.

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