Oz relaxes laws to pass details of foreign students to police

The release of students` names and ages was a decision in national interest.

Melbourne: Australia on Thursday relaxed privacy laws to pass the identification of half a million foreign students across the country to police to help them investigate whether attacks on foreign students, including Indians, were racially motivated.

Australian Privacy Commissioner Karen Curtis today announced relaxing strict privacy laws to release information identifying current and former students from China, India, South Korea, Malaysia and the US to police.

Her ruling comes after the Australian Institute of Criminology asked to conduct research into whether foreign students were more likely to be victims of crime compared with Australians of a similar age, according to `The Age`.

Commissioner Curtis said the release of students` names and ages, held by Department of Immigration, was a one-off decision in the national interest.

"The research will give the Australian government an accurate picture of crime statistics involving international students and help formulate an appropriate policy and law enforcement response," Curtis said.

"Significant privacy protections have been included. All personal information used for compiling and conducting this research project must be destroyed once the project is complete," she said.

Enrolments of Indian students in Australia have been reportedly dropped by 40 per cent this year after media coverage of a series of attacks.

During a visit to Delhi in March, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith announced the research by Australian Institute of Criminology to establish a better understanding of the attacks.

The report quoted the AIC`s director Adam Tomison as saying that the underlying issue of concern was whether the attacks were racially motivated.

Researchers would proceed to analyse other areas such as property crime and robbery too.

Tomison said release of students` details to police was required because crime databases usually failed to record the race or nationality of a victim.

Australian Federation of International Students honorary president Wesa Chau said she hoped the study would distinguish between racially motivated and opportunistic crime.

"The study can be a positive step if done properly," she said.

"They need to ensure the data release isn`t used to target students over their visas."

Chau said the under-reporting of crimes by students from more "reserved" countries such as China and Korea was a possible impediment to the outcome of the study.

"These students don`t trust the authorities because of cultural issues," she said.