Data matching agreements growing 'exponentially' – Privacy Commissioner

Cross-border data sharing for travel security a concern for Shroff

The number of data matching agreements authorised by the Privacy Commissioner’s office is increasing “exponentially”, says Commissioner Marie Shroff in her annual report. Only a modest increase was experienced in the early years of operation of the Privacy Act, from 18 agreements in 1994 to 24 in 2001, but by this year the number had grown to 70.

This is undoubtedly due in some measure to the escalating use of digital information as an integral part of government and private-sector operations, she says; “Much activity of government and business now takes place in cyberspace. Codes of practice may increasingly be demanded by users and holders of information, to provide a 'demilitarised zone' in which conflicting interests can be regulated. The [Commissioner’s] office will watch these developments both locally and internationally and respond as resources allow.”

In response to the digital nature of much information traffic and attendant privacy complaints, the office was granted funding in this year’s Budget for the establishment of a technology team.

The Ministry of Social Development and Inland Revenue lead in the new information matching agreement stakes, while checking of “continuing eligibility” for benefits of one kind or another continues to grow as the leading reason for data matching.

The Commissioner flags information sharing across national borders — facilitated by ICT — as a particular matter of concern. Much of this stems from increasing security concern over international travel.

“Private sector databases such as those held by airlines and travel agents have been made accessible to border control agencies and personal information about New Zealanders can more readily be disclosed to foreign agencies,” says Shroff.

“I remain concerned, as was my predecessor [Bruce Slane], to ensure that a proportionate response is taken to these issues and that privacy is not sacrificed unnecessarily in the pursuit of security," she says.

“The imminent move to biometric passports and the possible development of a global biometric identification system covering all travellers will present new challenges for privacy in this area.”

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