Public register privacy moves stalled

Long-suggested amendments to the Privacy Act have yet to be adopted by government and are unlikely to make it into a bill for some time.

Long-suggested amendments to the Privacy Act have yet to be adopted by government and are unlikely to make it into a bill for some time.

High on former Privacy Commissioner Bruce Slane’s agenda since 1998 has been the question of the bulk use of information on public registers, particularly for marketing exercises aimed at certain sectors of the population.

In an address to the Auckland Medico-Legal Society earlier this year, Slane flagged legislation to control such use as an “urgent need”. He cited the case of a finance company which wrote to people on the motor-vehicle register.

Amendments dealing with this area were part of Slane’s first review of the Privacy Act, in 1998, but they are still at the “very early policy development stage”, says a Ministry of Justice spokeswoman.

“Government has not yet made a decision to adopt any of the review recommendations.”

In his address to the Medico-Legal Society, Slane – succeeded last year as Privacy Commissioner by Marie Shroff – also pointed to the threat of growing legislative inroads on the principles of the act, as the government acted on perceived public opinion about the need to reduce crime.

“Indeed,” Slane said, “terrorism legislation has principally so far followed the agenda of the police rather than the agenda of a counter-terrorist strategy. I have often felt almost alone in defending the civil liberties of people who are not criminals. Usually only the Law Society is also taking a principled stand.”

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