POST 2: Law discourse and pragmatism within the problem space of online privacy and data security

Much of the academic discourse surrounding data surveillance and data security seems to acknowledge a sense of adolescence in the laws that foster data practices in Australia.

Zwart, Humphreys and Dissel from the University of New South Wales, Sydney, published a journal article in 2014, titled; ‘Surveillance, Big Data & Democracy: Lessons For Australia From The US & The UK’, which dissects this notion of vague laws surrounding data surveillance — suggesting that these laws are having, and are going to continue to have, a serious impact on public privacy until they are addressed (Zwart, Humphreys & Dissel 2014). 

It is interesting to consider how the discourse of law perhaps offers a more pragmatic avenue for approaching such socially integrated, multi-faceted issues. Unlike much of the newspaper articles that I have dissected — which are perhaps more interested in provoking fear than providing anything constructive — legal discourse seems to offer a more practical approach to the problem space that is certainly refreshing.

Melissa de Zwart (one of the contributors to the report), has a keen interest in this intersection between law and technology: In 2015 she was the team leader of the Adelaide X cyberwar, Surveillance and Security MOOC, and has written an array of academic articles regarding the matter, such as “The lawless frontier of deep space: code as law in EVE online”, from 2014. Her academic investment in the topic certainly suggests that her opinion is highly valid and expert.

Perhaps adjunct to Zwart, Humphreys and Dissel’s journal article is Kenny, Pierce and Pye’s 2012 case study for Deakin University in Melbourne, titled; “Ethical considerations and guidelines in web analytics and digital marketing : a retail case study” (Kenny, Pierce & Pye 2012). The article concurs with Zwart, Humphreys & Dissel’s identification of the vague laws surrounding Australia’s data practices, and suggests that so-called ‘multi-channel retailing’ efforts conducted by Australian retail businesses, are breaching consumer ethics as a result. The article focuses on how these vague laws are failing to place a ceiling over web analytics conducted by retail businesses — which are becoming more and more competitive, and thus, driving unethical consumer practices across Australia (Kenny, Pierce & Pye 2012). These unethical consumer practices involve the aggregation, collation and trade of consumer data by retail businesses used for various profiteering means. Web analytics is certainly not a new concept — what is most worrying, however, is the fact that these vague Australian privacy laws seem ill-equipped in fostering such practices. It is as if these businesses are operating in a legal vacuum (Kenny, Pierce & Pye 2012). 

Kenny, Pierce and Pye’s case study comes as part of the proceedings for the 2012 Australian Institute of Computer Ethics conference, which is held at the Institute of Computer Ethics, Melbourne. The conference focuses on the continued development of Computer Ethics within Australia, taking into account the current issues that impact such ethics, such as social media etc. All papers published as proceedings documents are subject to review by members of an expert panel, suggesting that the article is of a highly relevant, academic standard.

Dr Graeme Pye, one of the authors of the case study, completed a PhD in critical infrastructure security and system modeling in 2004, which involved developing a method for utilising system security analysis and modeling at the School of Information Systems at Deakin University, Melbourne. He has written a number of papers regarding information systems security such as his 2006 journal article titled “Conceptual modeling: choosing a critical infrastructure modeling methodology”, which discusses the various issues surrounding critical infrastructure, and the demand for such systems (Pye & Warren 2006). 


Pye, G. & Warren, M. 2006, ‘Conceptual modeling: choosing a critical infrastructure modelling methodology’ Proceedings of the 7th Australian Information Warfare and Security Conference, pp. 103-113.

Zwart, M.D., Humphreys, S. and Dissel, B.V., 2014, ‘Surveillance, big data and democracy: Lessons for Australia from the US and UK’, UNS members of the expert conference organising committee, WLJ, 37, pp.713.

Kenny, R. Pierce, J. & Pye, G. 2012, ‘Ethical considerations and guidelines in web analytics and digital marketing: a retail case study’, in AiCE 2012 : Proceedings of the 6th Australian Institute of Computer Ethics conference 2012, pp. 5-12.

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