Last week Justice Minister Amy Adams addressed the Wellington Privacy Forum with a focus on information collection and dissemination, public trust in government privacy laws and how New Zealand’s Privacy Act can be modernised to fit the changing technological and social face of the country.
“My goal is to have a government that appropriately uses information in an effective and timely manner for the benefit of New Zealanders – but also where we have the necessary infrastructure and penalties to act swiftly if a person’s privacy is unfairly infringed."
Citizens must understand privacy rights and information use
The New Zealand public must become informed and vigilant about their privacy, including who’s using it, how and why it’s being used. An indifferent attitude to law and privacy is what is costing the country so much in the way of security breaches and malicious attacks, Adams says.
Adams continues by emphasising the improvement of government information collection improves services by making them more relevant and cost-efficient than ever before. New Zealanders must understand, though that it is government information collected from citizens that allows this process to happen, and this is a fine balance to make sure information collection and information security are at the right level.
Adams uses Fitbit as an example of private surveillance and data collection, and how health insurers could potentially use that information to analyse insurance eligibility.
Adams is also working with the Data Futures Partnership, an independently-conducted team that analyses data anonymity and re-identification and its consequences.
Big data is also an important issue for Adams, as it demonstrated how this information can be used by companies to create better products, but also data privacy must continuously change as new technological developments occur. The question, Adams says, is how users expect this data to be responsibly managed.
New Zealand’s Privacy Act 1990 is outdated and in need of redrafting to reflect modern New Zealand and to protect the security breaches that come with it from both New Zealand and offshore companies where privacy rules can differ, Adams says.
Reforms, as proposed in the Law Commission’s Privacy Act review, include a stronger position for the Privacy Commissioner, mandatory breach reporting and more penalties for lawbreakers. Incentives for businesses to protect client privacy will also be implemented.
Adams plans to introduce the 2016 Privacy Bill into Parliament by 2017, with consultation beginning at the end of this year.
Information sharing by government departments
Citizens' data is anonymised from institutions such as Statistics New Zealand primarily to deliver better government services, including housing and school’s management of children’s learning and potential abuse issues, Adams says.
Potential issues with information sharing
The inconsistency and lack of clarity in the current Privacy Act makes it hard for companies to identify when and how information collection and sharing can occur. Information sharing agreements complicate matters due to their unmanageable nature, Adams says.
Refinement of the Act and the removal of the principles-based approach should alleviate some of the complications arising from potential confusion.
One more step towards an answer
With the theory that public security and safety are more important than privacy in government and the public sector, Adams says it’s time for change.
Together with the Privacy Commissioner, Adams developed a range of goals that include public safety, frontline staff safety, better management of offences, and a crackdown on “the opportunities for criminals with multiple identities to game the system”.
Adams aims to formulate a service-wide agreement about information sharing practices, encouraging adherence but also exploring where the current policies fall short. In order to protect New Zealand from terrorism and criminal activity.
Adams says malicious dissemination and use of information will not be tolerated, and the public sector must consider the potential effects on citizens when sharing and using information. Citizens must also listen to this debate and speak up with their ideas.
“As well as protecting privacy and upholding that right, I see it as a pivotal role in my job as Justice Minister to do all I can to make the safe and effective sharing of information possible to help make the lives of our most vulnerable better,” Adams concludes.