Federal privacy commissioner, Timothy Pilgrim ... “the Privacy Act will generally not cover the acts and practices of overseas government agencies.” Photo: Michele Mossop
Allegations of information sharing agreements between Australian law enforcement and United States authorities fall outside the scope of the federal privacy commissioner, Timothy Pilgrim.
In a statement released to media late on Wednesday, Mr Pilgrim said the revelations last week of an unprecedented surveillance program by the National Security Agency in the US had "raised a number of questions, including what this means for the privacy of individuals".
While Mr Pilgrim pushed for the privacy as a fundamental human right under both Australian and international law, he noted existing exemptions under the legislation that sets out his powers for law enforcement for intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
"The Privacy Act includes limited exceptions that allow government agencies and private sector organisations covered by the Act to use and disclose personal information for the enforcement of criminal laws, or where the use or disclosure is required or authorised by or under Australian law," he said.
"The Privacy Act can extend to an act or practice that occurs outside Australia in certain circumstances. However, the Act also provides that an act or practice of an organisation done outside Australia does not breach the Privacy Act if it is required by an overseas law.
"Further, the Privacy Act will generally not cover the acts and practices of overseas government agencies."
The NSA's PRISM program, which allegedly allows the agency and other authorities to monitor information from major technology companies, was revealed last week after 29-year-old defence contractor Edward Snowden leaked information to The Guardian and The Washington Post .
GLOBAL PRIVACY CONCERNS
The revelations have led to calls from privacy leads globally, including European Union officials, for more information about the extent of programs run by US authorities.
Academics also suggested to MIT's Technology Review that technology companies could fall foul of European privacy regulations by participating in the program.
A spokesman for Mr Pilgrim did not immediately respond to questions about whether the commissioner would ask questions directly of authorities.
Federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has so far refused to confirm whether Australian authorities are involved in information sharing with the NSA, despite confirmation that the British equivalent of the Defence Signals Directorate has received information through the program.
"I don't provide comment on intergovernmental arrangements that we have in the intelligence area and I don't provide comment on operational matters arising in the intelligence sector," he said on Tuesday.
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