Published 8 March 2024

Privacy Commissioner Carly Kind joined with other leaders in speaking to the Communications Law Bulletin, the publication of the Communications and Media Law Association, for the International Women’s Day edition.

Lewis Graham, Associate, Allens Linklaters, sits down with Carly Kind, the newly appointed Privacy Commissioner at the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, to discuss Carly's career to date and what she is looking forward to most in her new role. Prior to her role as the Privacy Commissioner, Carly was the Director of the London-based Ada Lovelace Institute. A human rights lawyer and leading authority on the intersection of technology policy and human rights, Carly has advised industry, government and non-profit organisations on digital rights, privacy and data protection, and corporate accountability in the technology sphere. She has worked with the European Commission, the Council of Europe, numerous UN bodies and a range of civil society organisations. She was formerly Legal Director of Privacy International, an NGO dedicated to promoting data rights and governance.

Lewis Graham: Carly, first, congratulations on your appointment as the Privacy Commissioner! Second, thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview. You've had a fascinating career path leading up to your current role. Would you mind providing our readers with a short summary of your career journey to date?

Carly Kind: I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts with your readers! The north star of my career has been human rights and social justice – a commitment to those ideals has really driven me to pursue each new opportunity, at home and abroad.

I was incredibly fortunate to commence my career as a young lawyer in a boutique law firm in Brisbane where I was mentored by passionate lawyers who showed me how law and policy could both advance and impede the enjoyment of social and racial justice. The early years of my career coincided with the events of 9/11 and the global war on terror, which shaped how I came to understand abuses of State power and the importance of human rights law. It was through this lens that I came to be interested in the right to privacy, and its curtailment by expanding national security protections and growing surveillance powers. After a number of years working in the UN human rights system, I became Legal Director of the international NGO, Privacy International, and led the organisation’s strategic litigation portfolio designed to bring greater transparency and accountability to government and corporate surveillance and data-related harms.

After leaving Privacy International, I spent almost five years as an independent consultant, advising charities and international organisations on a range of issues at the intersection of human rights and technology. I developed data protection frameworks for UN agencies in West Africa, wrote discussion papers on encryption and hacking for major human rights organisations, and crafted data ethics guidelines for telcos. I spent almost two years consulting to the European Commission, promoting and facilitating the development of data protection frameworks in Asia and Latin America.

In 2019 I had the opportunity to become the first Director of a nascent research institute, the UK-based Ada Lovelace Institute, which at that time was in the process of being established by the Nuffield Foundation. I built the team and grew the organisation from the kernel of an idea to an international centre of excellence on research related to the social and ethical impacts of AI and data-driven technologies.

After spending the best part of two decades as a privacy advocate, I could not ignore an opportunity this year to come and lead a privacy regulator in one of the most dynamic jurisdictions for privacy law and enforcement globally. Stepping into the role of Australia’s Privacy Commissioner at a moment when the country is poised to bring forth major reforms of the Privacy Act, against the backdrop of huge technological change, is incredibly exciting. The fact that it also brings me home to Australia, where I haven’t lived for more than 15 years, is the icing on top of an already delicious cake!

Lewis: You've worked in private practice as a lawyer, for major inter-governmental organisations and for independent research institutes. What inspired you to move into each of those industries? What did you enjoy most about working in each of those industries?

Carly: Many of the moves I’ve made between sectors have been motivated by a desire to get closer to effecting change and having a positive impact over people’s lives. Working in private practice, and in particular in criminal and administrative law, I felt the direct impact of my work on individuals but struggled with the inability to effect structural change. At the United Nations and in policy roles, I’ve felt the scope of potential impact much more satisfying, but at times found myself frustrated with the pace of change. In this light, the opportunity to step into a regulatory role presents a unique and intriguing opportunity to work close to both people and policy.

I’ve also always been attracted to the opportunity to learn and build new skills with each new role. In my most recent position, as Director of the Ada Lovelace Institute, I learnt so much about growing and leading teams, supporting individuals’ personal and professional development, and what it means to think about embedding justice and anti-oppression in the workplace. In my new position, I’m looking forward to learning from the wealth of public sector experience already in the senior leadership team, and honing my skills as a regulator.

Lewis: A substantial part of your career has been directed at advocating for the protection of individuals' privacy and the ethical collection and use of data. What drove you to focus on these issues as part of your career?

Carly: I am the daughter of a lawyer, and the granddaughter of post-war European immigrant. My father, a criminal defence lawyer, has always carried with him the impressive legacy of my grandfather, who fought in the French resistance and impressed upon dad the horrors of fascism and unaccountable state power that he witnessed through the German occupation of France. Growing up, my dad often shared his views with me about the importance of privacy against the backdrop of this family history, and in the context of seminal world events such as the McCarthy era that shaped his thinking on the importance of information and expression rights.

I inherited early on, therefore, an anti-authoritarian world view, one which was crystalised by the seminal events of my own early adulthood in the early 2000s. I came to privacy through a growing concern about national security intrusions into the personal realm, expanding surveillance powers and anti-democratic measures justified under the banner of counterterrorism. Over time, and under the tutelage of the privacy advocacy community in the UK and US, I came to understand privacy to be a fundamental enabling right for a range of rights, not only those related to procedural fairness but also expression, opinion, and self-determination.

Lewis: What are you most looking forward as part of your new role as Australia's Privacy Commissioner?

Carly: There could be no more exciting role in my view than the role of Australia’s Privacy Commissioner. Privacy issues grow in relevance and complexity with each passing day, and there is a clear and resounding social licence among the Australian community for a stronger approach to privacy regulation. The Australian legal framework embeds some interesting approaches and also has some limitations, and there are ambitious proposals afoot to bring that framework up to speed with changing community attitudes, expanding threats and advancing technologies. The regulatory approach in Australia embeds a three-commissioner model which creates an opportunity for novel synergies between different types of information rights. All of this together amounts to a unique opportunity to adopt, model and embed really novel and effective approaches to privacy regulation that are fit for purpose to meet the challenges of new and emerging technologies.

Lewis: Are there any particular developments in the data protection and privacy landscape that you think will particularly occupy you during your tenure as Privacy Commissioner?

Carly: The standard answer to that question is to reference the recent generative leap in artificial intelligence and the birth of a range of AI-driven tools, and while those kinds of advances are certainly interesting and relevant to the data protection space, I think the answer to your question is probably slightly more mundane; that is, many of the most concerning and harmful practices in the privacy landscape have been commonplace for some time, and we still have a lot of work to do to ensure those practices are properly regulated and that harm is minimised for citizens and consumers.

Lewis: As you have noted you previously worked for the Ada Lovelace Institute, named after the trailblazing 19th century female mathematician and scientist. Are there are any particular women, past or present, who inspire you? Why do they inspire you?

Carly: I have a lot of admiration for black women leaders, of which there are a number in the AI policy and research space who have been trailblazers making the case for understanding the ethical and societal implications of AI and data-driven technologies – people like Deb Raji, Joy Buolamwini, Safiya Noble, Ruha Benjamin, Sarah Chander, Seyi Akiwowo and my former colleague at the Ada Lovelace Institute Mavis Machirori. Black women face multiple intersecting forms of discrimination and marginalisation, and prominent black women are orders of magnitude more likely to be on the receiving end of online harassment than white women. I feel that I have a lot to learn from how black women navigate spaces in which they’re marginalised, and a lot of work to do to use the privilege I have to create space and opportunities for others.

Lewis: What is the best piece of advice that you've ever received?

Carly: I’m not sure I was fortunate enough to receive this as advice (or if I did, I didn’t listen closely enough) but I certainly have learnt, first-hand and the hard way, that you should never wait around for someone to give you permission to do the things you want to do. I think it’s very easy, particularly in the early stages of your career, to assume you need someone else’s approval or invitation to aim big, undertake an outsized challenge, or do something differently. It’s critical to know and remember that you are the person who cares the most about your career, and it’s on your shoulders to make that career everything you want it to be.

Lewis: I love that. Thanks Carly. On behalf of the Communications Law Bulletin’s readers, thank you so much for sharing your insights with us. Happy International Women’s Day!