Activist sues uni over privacy breach

By: Tony Koch

A HIGH-PROFILE Aboriginal activist, who has received threats allegedly from the Ku Klux Klan, is seeking $140,000 from James Cook University after it published his private address and silent telephone number on its website.
Stephen Hagan said he had been forced to sell his Toowoomba home because of the publication of his private details by the Townsville university where he is enrolled as an external PhD student in the School of Indigenous Australian Studies.
Mr Hagan says the $140,000 is to cover losses he says he sustained through the forced move.
A former ATSIC councillor, Mr Hagan is employed as a lecturer at Toowoomba's University of Southern Queensland. He came to prominence through his unsuccessful campaign to have the ``Nigger Brown'' grandstand at Toowoomba oval renamed. The stand is named after 1920s local rugby league legend Edward Stanley Brown.
He was also involved in unsuccessful court action to stop dairy food manufacturers continuing to use the brand name ``coon'' on a popular brand of cheese.
Before his private address and silent telephone number were published on the university's website, Mr Hagan had delivered a powerpoint presentation to JCU as part of his PhD proposal in which he outlined the seriousness of his anti-racism campaign and the threat posed to him and his family ``by the KKK and other racist groups''.
He included two letters he had received, allegedly from KKK members, who threatened violence if he did not stop his campaigns. Another was racist and insulting, claiming all black people were ``brutal'' and ``thieves''.
Mr Hagan's lawyer, in a letter to the university, wrote: ``Our client's position as an indigenous rights activist was known to the university and it was foreseeable that a breach of privacy of this nature would have the result that he and his family would suffer distress and be forced to move from their residence''.
Mr Hagan said he had been forced to move to new premises 15km away from the school his young children attended.
He said the university's privacy and confidentiality policies advertised on its website stated that student information was confidential and would not be disclosed to third parties without the prior written authority of the student.
JCU registrar Michael Kern yesterday said: ``We have received an offer from Mr Hagan's solicitors and we are in the process of making a counter offer. We are hopeful this matter will be resolved.'' Queensland Justice Department acting privacy co-ordinator Kev Johnson said universities were subject to the information standard set by the Queensland Government and details collected about students could not be disclosed without the approval of the student.
But Mr Johnson said Queensland did not have a Privacy Act and the administrative legislation covering such issues did not provide for penalties.