The Privacy commissioner has created a technology team to help tackle problems arising from the rapid growth in data matching.
Last year 21.4 million personal records were officially disclosed by one government agency to another, compared with 10.8 million three years ago. Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff says that there are now 36 data matching programmes operating, compared with 16 three years ago.
“Data matching is a very important tool for the efficiency of the government,” she says, “on the one hand for protection of revenue, and on the other as a powerful positive tool, for example to make sure that eligible people do indeed receive benefits.”
The technology team has a watchdog role in monitoring government information matching and technology developments with privacy implications.
“Many of the important issues in privacy, and in the handling of confidential information, stem from changes in technology,” Shroff says.
“That covers not just computer technology but technology in the broadest sense.”
Shroff says biometrics, such as finger print scanning or facial recognition technology, is an example of an area that could be invasive.
The government provided the extra funding to establish the technology team, primarily because of the rise in data matching, but also because of the e-government initiative, which enables citizens to transact with the government online.
“The work that we are doing in relation to the e-government initiative focuses on online authentication, which has strong personal information protection implications.”
Shroff is expecting the technology team to grow over time, but says the office also has to find ways to work smarter by working with people in government departments that run matching programmes.
Complaints under investigation by the Privacy Commissioner’s Office have decreased from 818 to 569 in one year, according to the Office’s annual report.
Shroff says active case management and improved compliance with privacy requirements are helping to keep the number of complaints down.
The Office has also made an effort to clear a backlog of complaints and help individuals resolve complaints directly with the agency involved.