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Published on May 17, 2012
Lawyers and human rights advocates in Victoria have mounted a legal challenge to police surveillance of protesters, based on Victoria's Privacy Act and Human Rights Charter.
TONY JONES, PRESENTER: Lawyers and human rights advocates in Victoria have mounted a legal challenge to police surveillance of protestors. The civil case is about whether police have breached Victoria's Privacy Act and human rights charter by filming people taking part in a peaceful protest. Hamish Fitzsimmons reports. HAMISH FITZSIMMONS, REPORTER: The image of a police officer with a hand-held camera at a protest or similar public gathering is something many people are used to. But at this forum in Melbourne, people want to know what's being done with that information once the protest is over. MICHALE PEARCE, LIBERTY VICTORIA: What we do know is that there've been a large number of MOUs, memoranda of understanding, between the Victorian police and various private developers which require the police and private developers to swap information, personal information about protestors. HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: The issue was first raised 2009 when it was revealed Victoria police had agreed to provide information about protestors to the consortium building a desalination plant in Gippsland. One of the people involved was local vet Chris Heislers. CHRIS HEISLERS: It's one thing that information going to government departments and so forth, but to go to a private company really worried me and it worried a lot of people involved in the campaign and scared a lot of people. HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: Farmer Jan Beer succeeded in accessing the information that was gathered about her by the builders of Victoria's north-south water pipeline which she led protests against. JAN BEER: Police were privy to that information and it was also shared with the security intelligent group who were responsible for counter-terrorism. That seemed a little bit of overkill to me. I mean, here I am 60-plus-year-old grandmother who had never protested before. HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: Lisa Caripis was filmed at an uneventful protest outside a power station in 2010. Months later, she formally requested the Victoria police destroy any information on her that they'd gathered. That request was refused. LISA CARIPIS: We were told that you can't guarantee that at some point in the future somebody who was at that protest will not make a complaint about what transpired. And we thought, well, surely there's got to be a test of reasonableness here. Can the police hold onto this footage forever? HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: That case is being taken to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal in July on the grounds police have breached Victoria's privacy human rights laws by retaining the material they collected. NICHOLAS CROGGON, ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENDERS OFFICE: There certainly are rules that regulate precisely how the Victoria police collect information and how they retain it. That's what the Information Privacy Act contains. So the question here is: have those rules been complied with? HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: In a statement, the Victoria police told Lateline when surveillance is conducted, it's done in order to identify protestors who may commit a crime and that any information is held no longer than necessary. But civil rights lawyers reject that argument and want stronger privacy laws to protect individuals. MICHALE PEARCE: If somebody's acting unlawfully, they have a proper basis to collect and use information, but if you just go and stand outside Hazelwood power station and hold a banner up saying you think it should close down, you're not breaking the law. The police have no right to collect any information about you on that basis - 18 May 2012.