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Surveillance and monitoring

What types of devices do surveillance and monitoring laws cover?

A number of Commonwealth, State and Territory laws variously restrict the use of listening, optical, data and tracking surveillance devices.

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Are there rules about monitoring and recording my telephone conversations?

Laws at both the federal and state or territory level apply to the monitoring and recording of telephone conversations. Which law or laws will apply will depend on the circumstances, in particular, where the surveillance occurred, who or what was being monitored or and who was responsible for the surveillance.

The Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979makes it an offence for a person to intercept or access private telecommunications without the knowledge of those involved in that communication.

The Surveillance Devices Act 2004 governs the use of surveillance devices by Australian Government agencies. This Act also applies to the police of the Australian states and territories when they are using surveillance devices under Commonwealth laws.

The laws relating to monitoring and recording telephone conversations differ between states and territories laws. While it is illegal in some states and territories to record a phone call or conversation without the person’s consent, in other states and territories it is not. You can contact the Attorney General’s Department in your state or territory for more information on your state or territory’s surveillance and monitoring laws.

Under the Privacy Act 1988, an organisation must tell you at the beginning of your call if your call is to be recorded or monitored. This is so you have the option of either ending the call or asking to be transferred to another line where monitoring or recording does not take place, if this is available.

Reasons organisations may monitor or record conversations could include:

  • to protect you in your dealings with the organisation
  • to provide a record in the event of a dispute about the transaction
  • to improve customer service.

Telephone companies may also need to monitor the quality of transmission on the telecommunications network for maintenance purposes. The Communications Alliance Ltd have developed strict guidelines around this form of monitoring to protect customer privacy. If you would like more information about this monitoring, contact the telephone company providing your service.

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Is my employer allowed to monitor my activities at work?

It may be reasonable for an employer to monitor some of its staff’s activities to ensure staff are performing their duties and using resources appropriately. As such, if your workplace monitors its staff’s use of email, the internet and other computer resources, and you have been advised of that monitoring, it would generally be allowed.

Where the monitoring includes retention of a record of the staff activity, for example, a CCTV video recording or a computer record of emails, then the Australian Privacy Principles (APPs) may apply. 

State laws generally regulate the installation and use of CCTV. Some states also have specific workplace surveillance laws.  You can contact the Attorney General’s Department in your state or territory for more information on your state or territory’s surveillance and monitoring laws.

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What rules apply to businesses using CCTV?

A business that uses CCTV will likely have obligations under several laws. If the business is covered by the Privacy Act, the handling of any personal information it collects through the use of surveillance devices, including CCTV, will need to comply with the APPs.

Generally, any business that uses CCTV will need to notify you before you are recorded that your image may be recorded by CCTV. A business also has obligations to ensure any personal information it records about you is kept secure and is destroyed or de-identified when it is no longer required. 

State laws generally regulate the installation and use of CCTV. You can contact the Attorney General’s Department in your state or territory for more information on your state or territory’s surveillance and monitoring laws.

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What can I do about my neighbour's security camera?

If your neighbour has a surveillance camera pointed at your house and you are worried about your privacy, the best thing to do is talk to your neighbour about it. If this doesn’t work you could approach your local community justice or neighbourhood mediation centre for help resolving the issue.

Surveillance cameras operated by individuals are not covered by the Privacy Act 1988, but they may be covered by State or Territory law, and the police may be able to help you for very serious matters.

State laws generally regulate the installation and use of CCTV. You can contact the Attorney General’s Department in your state or territory for more information on your state or territory’s surveillance and monitoring laws.

If your property is part of a strata title, you could also enquire as to whether CCTV is contravening a bylaw. You could contact your local council to find out whether the practice may contravene any local laws. Some councils may require planning permission for CCTV.  

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Community justice/neighbourhood mediation centres

This list is provided by the NSW Attorney-General’s Department.

New South Wales

Community Justice Centres
Attorney General's Department
Level 5, Parramatta Justice Precinct
160 Marsden Street
Parramatta NSW 2150

Freecall: 1800 990 777
Website: www.cjc.nsw.gov.au

Queensland

Dispute Resolution Branch
Department of Justice & Attorney General
Level 1, Brisbane Magistrates Court
363 George Street
Brisbane QLD 4001

Phone: (07) 3239 6007
Fax: (07) 3239 6284
Website: www.justice.qld.gov.au

Northern Territory

Community Justice Centre
Department of Justice
Level 1, Darwin Magistrates Court
Nichols Place
Darwin NT 0801

Phone: 1800 000 473
Email: cjc.doj@nt.gov.au
Website: www.cjc.nt.gov.au

Victoria

Dispute Settlement Centre
Department of Justice
Level 4, 456 Lonsdale Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
PO Box 4113 Melbourne VIC 3000

Freecall: 1800 658 528
Website: http://www.disputes.vic.gov.au/

ACT

Conflict Resolution Service
Level 3, 8 Griffin Centre
20 Genge Street
Canberra City ACT 2601

Phone: (02) 6162 4050
Website: www.crs.org.au

Western Australia

Aboriginal Mediation Services
Department of the Attorney General
Level 12, 141 St Georges Terrace
Perth WA 6000

Freecall: 1800 045 577
Phone:  (08) 9264 6150
Fax: (08) 9264 1526
Website: www.department.dotag.wa.gov.au

South Australia

Southern Community Justice Centre
40 Beach Road
Christies Beach SA 5165

Phone: (08) 8384 5222
Website: http://www.scjc.com.au

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