Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre, University of New South Wales
Interpreting Privacy Principles research project
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"Interpreting Privacy Principles"
ARC-funded Research Project – Summary

The Australian Research Council made a Discovery grant in November 2005 for a multidisciplinary research project led by Professor Graham Greenleaf of UNSW and hosted at the Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre. It involves a range of distinguished academic researchers and experts from Australia, NZ and Canada.

A summary of the grant information appears below.

For more information about the project's aims, see the Background Paper. The rest of this site is for presentation of the project's work in progress.

"Interpreting Privacy Principles" (DP0666646)


The full title of this project is Creating more consistent privacy principles through better interpretation and law reform: an Australasian initiative to resolve an international problem. comparative research into privacy principles.The project, which is running for three years from March 2006, is funded by the Australian Research Council through a Discovery Grant.

The project is supported by the joint UNSW-UTS Australasian Legal Information Institute (AustLII) with its legislation and caselaw databases.

Australia’s privacy laws will be reformed in the years to come. The Australian Law reform Commission (ALRC) has embarked on a major two year review of privacy. A consistent theme both in the ALRC Issues Papers and in reports of previous reviews is the need for national consistency in Australia’s ‘patchwork quilt’ of Commonwealth, State and Territory privacy laws, including both general and subject-specific laws in areas such as health, credit and telecommunications. The iPP project will help provide that consistency.

Data export prohibitions have accelerated harmonisation of the world’s privacy legislation, and all jurisdictions are seeking to ensure that similar principles deliver similar outcomes in practice. The APEC Privacy Framework is now encouraging a minimum level of uniformity in the Asia-Pacific.

Most privacy laws are based on ‘Information Privacy Principles’ (IPPs) covering the whole ‘life-cycle’ of personal information (including collection, security, integrity, use, access, correction and deletion). The IPPs in these laws bear a strong ‘family resemblance’, reflecting in part the influence of key international agreements, but differ in details and expression. They are underpinned by a set of ‘core concepts’ such as ‘personal information’, ‘document’, and ‘consent’, sometimes defined in legislation.

The principal objective of this research is to conduct the first comprehensive Australian study of

  • the interpretation of IPPs and ‘core concepts’ in Australia’s various privacy laws, particularly by Courts, Tribunals and privacy regulators,
  • the extent of current statutory uniformity between jurisdictions and types of laws, and
  • proposals for reforms to obtain better uniformity, certainty, and protection of privacy.

A small but rapidly growing body of cases has developed in Australia over the last few years. More than 100 Tribunal and Court decisions, a similar number of mediated complaint summaries have become available. There has until now been no systematic analysis of this material.

The project is also considering the interpretation of similar IPPs and core concepts in the privacy laws of other Asia-Pacific and European jurisdictions. Particular attention is being paid to New Zealand, which has both the most similar IPPs to Australia’s laws and the greatest wealth of case law of any relevant jurisdiction.

The project is identifying the relationships (overlaps, inconsistencies, additional principles) between the different Australasian sets of IPPs, and then locating and analysing;

  • administrative interpretations (Commissioner's guidelines, Codes, mediated complaints reports etc);
  • judicial and tribunal interpretations, including from relevant Freedom of Information (FOI) law; and
  • analogous principles in common law and administrative law, equity and common law, and case law on these.

The researchers are also using the analysis to develop a set of proposed ‘model IPPs’, and justifications for them. These can be used as policy inputs into the development (or reform) of Australian privacy laws, other national laws, or international agreements.


Prof GW Greenleaf, P Roth, L Bygrave.

  • 2006: $107,000
  • 2007: $82,000
  • 2008: $102,000

Category: 3901 - LAW

Administering Institution: The University of New South Wales

This grant was announced in the document extracted below, at

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