One third of New Zealanders feel they have no control over government use of personal information

One third of New Zealanders surveyed by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner feel they are not in control of the way the government uses their information, says Privacy Commissioner John Edwards.

And that is an understatement, adds newly appointed Government Chief Privacy Officer Russell Burnand.

The two privacy chiefs were separately addressing a seminar in Wellington this week.

Edwards says a significant trend is the level of concern by young people, much more so than older people.

He says that after 21 years the statute establishing his office is due for review.

“We want to make compliance easier and provide effective and timely remedies when things go wrong.”

In a recent case involving credit reporting, he says he told his staff to rewrite the code to speed up resolution.

Compulsory mediation conferences had been available since 1993 but had never really been used. “That’s a tool we’re now going to use.”

His office was about to issue legal proceedings seeking prosecution of an un-named party for hindering the Privacy Commission.

Edwards says the Law Commission had made more than 140 recommendations prior to rewriting of the Act.

“Sixty per cent of the complaints we receive are around access. To enforce things, you must go to the Human Rights Commission, which can take years. The new law will enable us to enforce compliance.”

Burnand, who was appointed GCPO in July, stressed that he was not a privacy specialist. “This [role] is less about privacy than about change management. I don’t think public servants value information the way they should. The breadth of personal information held by government is just enormous.

“The tricky part is trying to influence culture change.”

He says his role was created to provide privacy leadership and capability and a clear signal that privacy is central to government information management practices.

“Any government chief executive must think about it.

“In my view, if you don’t get privacy right it will seriously impede the business. One public service breach has an incremental effect.”

The government wants 70 per cent of major transactions with it to be digital.

“My role is to raise awareness with chief executives,” Burnand says. “The job is to prod and influence, and the challenge is to understand where agencies struggle.

“I’m seeing pockets of very good practice and very bad practice.”

Burnand says his focus includes developing and communicating standards and guidance, and to provide assurance to the government CIO and ministers of capability build.

“I’m trying hard not to duplicate services with John [Edwards]. My job is to augment the work he does.” He wants to be seen as a “trusted friend”, not an auditor.

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